I bet that headline made you sit up and take notice. Feeling uneasy?
Here’s one of the questions from that survey and its answers:
QUESTION 1.4.1) “It’s very bad to beat your children”
|Neither agree or disagree||29.3%|
This statement mainly generated disagreement amongst respondents suggesting at the current time parents do not feel that beating children is bad. However, 18.7% of parents were in agreement that beating children is bad.
These survey results have been picked up by a politician, who trumpets in the press that “80% of parents believe that beating their children is okay”
But how on earth did the survey come up with these alarming figures? (In fact just 52.1% of parents could actually be said to agree with beating their children.)
Of course, it’s arrived at by sleight of hand. First of all we need to filter the respondents to the survey at the outset, so that we have our ‘representative sample.’ Let’s try: “Have you slapped your children in the last twelve months and do you intend to do so again in the future?” If they answer “yes” to this question we can continue.
Now are we surprised with the results from the survey? No, of course not. We are dealing with a pre-selected group of people who are likely to give us the results we want to see.
Does all this sound far fetched or unbelievable? Perhaps.
In fact, I invented that question, but not the results of the survey or how they were reported in the press and spoken about by a senior politician. The survey I am actually writing about here was not about beating your children at all. It was about people's perceptions about wind farms.
It was conducted for Visit Scotland and was entitled “Wind Farm Consumer Research”
This was the actual question in the survey:
Question 1.4.1) Wind farms spoil the look of the UK (Scottish) countryside
|UK Sample||Scotland Sample|
|Neither agree or disagree||29.3%||28.3%|
This statement mainly generated disagreement amongst respondents suggesting at the current time UK/Scotland consumers do not feel that wind farms spoil the look of the UK/Scotland countryside. However, 18.7% of UK consumers were in agreement as well as nearly 20% of Scotland respondents that the countryside was spoilt by these structures.
To start with, have a look at the second paragraph of the Wind Farm Consumer Research survey document. In it, it states: “ A screening question was put in to the survey to ensure that the respondents had taken a holiday/short break in the UK in the past 12 months and would intend to do so again in the future.”
Now this question, on the face of it, appears entirely innocuous. After all, if visitors had not taken a short break in the UK recently, how would they know about wind farms in the countryside?
But the sample excludes those people who are fed up looking out of their hotel/B&B windows at industrial structures spoiling the hilltops and have elected to spend their holiday time elsewhere. It also excludes those potential holiday makers who couldn’t afford to spend a holiday last year. It excludes all those holiday makers who have so much dosh they have no intention of risking dodgy UK weather and want guaranteed sunshine. I don’t know for certain how these excluded groups would have answered the question, but let’s make some guesses.
The first group would definitely be anti-wind farm. They have had enough of looking at industrial structures in wild places.
The second group are from an economic group who have seen their energy bills rise dramatically in the last few years and are now the category “fuel poor,” with wind farms subsidies accounting for a large chunk of their lack of money. I can’t see them being too keen on looking at wind farms, either.
The third group is harder to second-guess. The well-heeled Guardianistas will probably be supporters of wind farms. The well-heeled Times & Telegraph readers perhaps less so?
The screening question also says that this screened survey group should intend to holiday again in the UK – again narrowing down the sample to those more likely to be content with wind farms in the countryside.
Whatever. The reality is that there should not be a screening question in the first place if you want a truly representative sample.
However, for SNP Energy Spokesman, Mike Weir to say that “80% of visitors do not agree that wind turbines spoil the look of the Scottish countryside.” is just telling lies.