The truth is out there

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"Substantive answers, of course, are what interest us, because we want to know what public opinion is.  The journalistic emphasis on substance as supposed to procedure is therefore altogether understandable." (113)

As part of the discussion of inaccurate polling, the authors in chapter 6 of IANS seemed to regard reporter missteps less harshly than they did in previous chapters.  This may be because many articles, despite other mistakes, included with their poll or survey findings a "ritual disclaimer," notifying the number of people surveyed and the margin of error.  The text justly notes, however, that reporters often fail to discuss what exact questions were asked, how they were worded, and in what ordered they were asked.  Although, the authors did go on to include a few case studies that showed actually success stories; they included some examples of articles that avoided all the journalistic traps of poll reports. In particular, the authors highlighted the "exemplary" reporting of the New York Times  n covering a poll that reported a decrease in child abuse despite an altered methodology (which researchers thought would increase the number of reported child abuse).

Also, the ideas of chapter 6 seemed a little less difficult to wrap my head around.  I must admit I felt a little lost in the research and statistics of the last couple of chapters, thinking to myself “I’d never even think to question this or examine that.” But in the opening of chapter 6 I was quick to realize what the authors were trying to stress: you can't always trust the source of poll results.  It seemed suspicious to me from the get-go that a poll from PBS found the public was against cutting government funding for broadcasting or that the public school teacher's union sponsored a poll that showed the public was against school choice programs.

All in all, this reading helped me breathe a slight sigh of relief.  As a member of society and consumer of the news, I'm not completely blind to the traps of science reporting, and as for the stories themselves, not all science articles are unbalanced or inaccurate. 

 

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4 Comments

ChrisU said:

"...not all science articles are unbalanced or inaccurate."

It's important to keep that in mind while reading a text that floods you with examples of bad reporting. The mistakes are not the norm, and many of these mistakes are actually the result of misleading statistics, not bad reporting.

Yes, the process of "how" is most important. Sometimes, the order in which you ask polling questions can have an adverse affect on the results of the poll (it is called systematic pairwise polling).

Also, on the subject of how, the Holocaust example. Double negatives can cause confusion.People will answer quickly without thinking.

carrie kraszewski said:

"I must admit I felt a little lost in the research and statistics of the last couple of chapters, thinking to myself ā€œIā€™d never even think to question this or examine that.ā€ Yeah, I feel the same way, there is too much information I just can't wrap around my head.

EllenEinsporn said:

I really like the quote you chose ("Substantive answers, of course, are what interest us, because we want to know what public opinion is.") I find this statement slightly ironic. It's slightly humorous and contradictory that we look to public opinion polls to find substantive answers. How can we ever find a substantial answer in an opinion? We really can't. All opinions are simply personal judgment statements, statements formed from our individual biases. The funny thing is, we try to anyway. This little Catch-22 is one of the reasons we need think critically about the results are really telling us. A poll that returns 70% of participants answering true in agreement with the statement, "Artificial tanning is theraputic" does not mean that artificial tanning is, in fact, theraputic. It simply means that 70% of the people polled believe it is. Furthermore, when reviewing such a poll, one should wonder who the target participants were. In this case, my imagerinary participants consisted of a high school cheerleading team, which led to a high return of "True" responses...See, everyone holds some personal biases. I've just showed you one of mine. (But, seriously, if you ever come across a cheerleading team where none of its members are tanned til the point where their skin has transgressed into a rough and wrinkly leather hide, let me know.)

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