Monday, October 14, 2013

Sweet irony

Tonight I was checking out the online postings of some political adversaries, as I do from time to time, and I came across a blog post by my old pal Bob McCoskrie, the NZ rightwing Christian activist (screen shot above). The irony made me laugh out loud (yes, literally).

Nowhere in the article excerpt he published or the full article he linked to does Bob ever call the poll by National Party MP Phil Heatley a “self-selecting poll”; in fact, the only mention of it is in the headline to his blog post (his group’s website uses the same headline as the news article they’re excerpting and linking to). Even if he didn’t say it anywhere but in his blog post’s headline, he’s absolutely right—it WAS a self-selecting survey and as such, not particularly valid or useful as a measure of public sentiment.

The thing is, we’ve been down this road with Bob before—but he was the one to be criticised.

Back during the marriage equality debate, Bob constantly used self-selecting surveys—without ever mentioning that’s what they were—in order to “prove” that New Zealanders didn’t want marriage equality. I called him out for doing this specific thing back in December 2012. I also corrected Bob’s misinterpretation of real polling data in several blog posts, in addition to debunking other claims and misinformation that didn’t rely on polling data.

So, Bob’s really in no position to criticise someone else for using self-selecting surveys—unless he’s sworn off using them in the future, of course. But I certainly don’t remember seeing that if he has.

The real point here is that we all—left, right and centre—ought to agree to NEVER report self-selecting surveys as if they’re real polls. They might be mildly interesting, sometimes even amusing, but they’re never a valid way to determine public opinion about anything. Using them cheapens public debate and insults news consumers who don’t have the time or inclination to check out the validity of polls.

Bob McCoskrie was absolutely correct to warn about “the danger of self-selecting polls”. I just wish he’d learned that much earlier—and I hope he’ll remember that sage advice during the next political battle, whatever it may be.

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