Statistics that smack of spin by underground

Statistics are great! If you’ve got an opinion, how better than to back up your point of view with some supportive numbers. Statistics give you credibility. I often use some numbers to back up one of my many online rants on this here blog you are reading. It often goes like, “here’s what I think and here’s the numbers that prove my point. Now you cannot disagree with me. I win and you lose! Back to the drawing board, you …(add insult here.)

However, sometimes statistics can be less than conclusive. And sometimes both sides of an argument can claim a stat supports either side’s point. This is what happened when the Christian lobby group Family First commissioned a survey into Sue Bradford’s repealing of section 59 of the Crimes Act (or what is lazily, but more simply, referred to as the “Anti-Smacking” Law)

The survey of 1018 parents was conducted by a market research company into attitudes to the law change. Of parents with children under 12, 48 per cent of respondents had smacked their child since the law was passed almost a year ago. 51 per cent of mothers surveyed admitted to hitting their child in this time.

Bob McCoskrie of Family First says the study shows the law has failed.

“For a new law to be ignored by so many people who are willing to risk a police or [Child, Youth and Family] investigation indicates just how out of step with reality this law is.”

McCoskrie also said the amount of respondents who oppose the law had risen since the same poll was taken a year ago, from 62 per cent to 73 per cent.

The Green Party’s Bradford, however, interpreted the statistics differently, as a poll at the time of the law change had found that 78 per cent of parents would physically discipline their children, if necessary.

“We are well on the way; that is a great result,” she said.

“While I am, of course, disappointed that so many parents continue to use violence as a part of bringing up their children, the Family First poll actually reveals that while in June last year 78 percent of parents said they would smack their children, now only 48 percent actually do.

“I believe this reflects the shift in public opinion which has been steadily occurring in the three years since my private member’s bill to remove the defence of ‘reasonable force’ for the purposes of child discipline was introduced to Parliament.

“Many people are realising that there are other, better ways of bringing up their children than by hitting, whacking or beating them.

“I am delighted that Family First, a group which consistently lead opposition to my bill, has revealed through its own polling that in fact many more parents are now open to learning new and less harmful ways of dealing with their children.”

To which McCoskrie says, “This statement, like the anti-smacking law, is removed from reality and is an insult to the hundreds of thousands of parents who are raising good, responsible, happy and law-abiding kids.”

The problem with Sue Bradford’s optimistic spin on the poll is that in the first poll, parents were asked whether they would smack their children in the future, if necessary. Perhaps many parents were not compelled to smack their children because the children did not misbehave to the extent that would provoke a violent response from the parents. Also, people may not have told the truth in their responses. Of course, honesty is always a major problem with any poll. Some people may not have wanted to disclose that they had broken the law by smacking their child. Perhaps some said they did smack their child when in fact they did not, because they opposed the law change and wished to skew the results. This could certainly go the other way, with supporters lying about having not smacked their children for the same reason.

At the end of the day, Family First’s argument is terribly flawed. This argument could be extended to justify doing anything illegal, as long as others do it too. People still smoke pot, even though it is illegal, so it must be right to do. People run red lights, or drink drive, but no one is calling for these laws to be repealed. Heaps of people eat grapes at Foodtown, perhaps we should change the law so that it is no longer stealing to do so. People say marijuana should be legalised, but saying that heaps of people do it is not sufficient to justify a law change. The argument should and must be based on whether it is in the best interests of New Zealand and its people to have marijuana legal for personal use. There’s a term for flawed arguments that appeal to majority, I cannot remember what it is called, but I think it applies here.

Anyway, back to my initial point. It is interesting to see how statistics can be used in arguments, especially when the same stats are used both sides differently. The lesson for the public, as it always is, is to scrutinise the information we are being given and how it may be being manipulated.

It does seem strange that whilst 85 per cent wish for the law to be changed, 73 per cent disagree with the law. What accounts for the difference between these two numbers? Are there people who support the law who want it changed? Changed to what? Strengthened? I do not trust these statistics. Who conducted the study? The news sites just say “commissioned by Family First” and that it was undertaken by a “market research company”. Although the numbers do not surprise me, I am sceptical about the credibility of this survey. How do we know they did not just ask 1018 people in church on Sunday? Perhaps an aversion to empiricism by our religious fundamentalist friends?

I went to their website to discover more about the study, and was struck by the gross misinformation and scare mongering on their site. It does not appear to be overtly religious at first, although “Judeo-Christian values” are appealed to on their about page, but the underlying themes points very much to a conservative fundamentalist Christian movement. The more I saw, the more it resembles the pages of Investigate magazine. Then I found an image promoting abstinence rings. Enough said!



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[…] Statistics that smack of spin […]

Pingback by “Use the (reasonable) force, Luke!” « Undergroundnetwork

preconcession says : I absolutely agree with this !

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