Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Slap some sense into this story

A man identified as “an Auckland businessman” plans to spend up to $450,000 on a march to protest the Government’s decision to ignore the deeply flawed smacking referendum. He’s been endorsed, of course, by the same far-right christianist group that’s been moaning the loudest about the referendum. The march idea is silly, and the nearly a half-million dollars would be better sent on preventing child abuse. Still, it’s their democratic right to waste their money on yet another stunt if they want to.

However, they can’t expect to spout utter nonsense and not be called out for doing so.

Their promotional material reads: “In the election 45% of votes counted for John Key. In the referendum 87% of votes counted for nothing.” Bad grammar aside, this is a double deception.

First—and most importantly—what they’re referring to is that 87.4% of people who voted cast a pro-smacking vote. However, what the activists are hiding is that the voter turnout was only 56.09% of eligible voters. That means that fewer than 48.98% of all eligible votes actually voted the way the activists claim. If you’re feeling generous, you could say that “about half” of New Zealand voters voted “no” in the referendum, but constantly using the 87.4% figure is deliberately deceptive and misleading, meant to imply overwhelming support where it never existed (see also my previous post on the results).

Second, there’s absolutely no direct link between those who voted for the National Party in the general election and those who voted “no” in the referendum: In fact, we have no idea how many voters of any party voted in the referendum or how they voted. We can make some educated guesses, but a direct correlation, as the activists imply, simply does not exist.

A companion piece on the christianist group’s website reads “Should a kick in the guts as part of responsible government go unanswered?” Intended as a play on the wording of the referendum, it’s also deliberately confrontational. If less than half of New Zealanders supported the activists’ position, how is it a “kick in the guts” if the government recognises that there’s no mandate for change? The referendum question was deliberately written to be confusing and counterintuitive. It’s not a stretch at all to assume that some of the “no” voters actually favour the law as changed and don’t back activists’ position.

So what we have are activists who were backed by fewer than half of all New Zealand voters, but who are still trying to force their agenda on everyone. The government is right to ignore them. Let the activists spend their half million dollars on a vanity rally if they want to—at least it’s not taxpayer money this time.


Anonymous said...

As I got a couple of years into my science education, I started noticing that both current affairs and general conversation contain A LOT of personal opinion couched as fact.

I'd hear, for example, the Minister of X Gov. Dept. state personal opinions and present them as national opinion or even worse, objective fact, by saying things like "everyone thinks..." or "most of us agree..." and there would NEVER be any data to back it up, never.

Then there are the, ahem, clever ones who get figures from somewhere - I refuse to dignify these figures with the use of the words data or statistics - and start presenting them as proof for their position. And one only had to consider the wording a little, to realise that at best there was a correlation and at worst, mere coincidence or even blatant dissembling.

For a couple of years, it really raised my blood pressure.

However, this is not good for my health - or people around me who have to listen to me shout at the radio - so now whenever this happens, I try to sing a little happy song to myself, picture fluffy bunnies in a field, nibbling grass and twitching their noses in the gentle breeze.

What I'm trying to say is, you can lead a politician to water, but you can't make him think. (Kinky Friedman)

Arthur Schenck said...

Good points. I'm often reminded of the famous quote from Benjamin Disraeli: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." When I get the opportunity, I don't mind exposing any of the three, as I did in this post.