Survey and Media Distortions

Greetings once again class. Those of you that know me personally (well, at least know me in person academically) will know I am a stickler for survey research being done correctly, and that correctly done surveys should be interpreted in the narrow way in which they are constructed. Those of you that have been reading my blog for a while may remember that I have a few times taken to task other sites, studies, or blogs, that have mis-represented information gathered from surveys (try here and here), or for that matter have just run roughshod over facts (here, and here) reaching conclusions simply from the long extension of their arm rather than the close reliance of reality (yeah-long way of saying they had to stretch to get there!)

Imagine my joy when I saw that one of my favorites blogs, the Language Log, decided to tackle another mis-reported survey. Of course, this one is particularly juicy since the log-ers are chastising the press for getting it wrong in reporting about how stupid the American people are. Perhaps the best point made is after listing the question asking people essentially to name the freedoms of the first amendment. In critiquing the analysis they write: “If you’re hip to the rhetoric of survey spin, you’ll guess at this point that the survey asked people to enumerate first-amendment rights by free recall.”
Yup, they could stop there, but they don’t! They then go on to mention how challenging that sort of question is. Asking someone to list off something very specific without any hints is quite difficult. Remember essay questions in school? The dreaded “What are 3 of the freedoms identified in the First Amendment, and explain the circumstances that caused their specific addition to the Bill of Rights?” (Actually, when you think about it, this particular essay question is replete with hints!)

Cheers for the Language Log!
Now, for what for me was truly ironic. Many of you remember the gracious treatment I received from the (apparent) owner of the A Liberal Dose blog (go back if you wish and read his witty comments, if your foul language detector is appropriately in place!) Well, not only is the author of that blog a great distorter of facts (or perhaps, just a tremendous prevaricator) he is a great distorter of images. To see what I am writing about, just go see the posting for Memorial Day weekend. As they say, context is everything. In this instance, we are provided a caption, and a picture of the President smiling. Of course, we are to quickly conclude the President may well have expressed deep remorse but by his smile, he must not have “meant it.” Hmmmm… Was the picture taken at the same time as the statement? (or even within seconds, or a minute?) Was the picture taken before the speech began? Who was the President looking at while smiling? (In the interest of fairness, this is the same sort of gross mis-representation that Rush Limbaugh did with the video of President Clinton laughing when leaving following the funeral of his former Secretary of Transportation. Of course, in THAT case the clip showed Clinton crying, laughing and then crying again, in the span of 10 seconds…)
As you can see, the picture doesn’t actually convey anything other than a man who can, at times, be quite “warm” most likely to a person in the crowd. It is mis-representations like this that lead one to conclude that “A Liberal Dose” is a person with an agenda, and perhaps not much else.
But that’s alright.
To steal from an old “Greyhound Busline” commercial “Just relax, and leave the thinking to us!”
The Prof