Monday, January 18, 2010

Editing the Herald

Since James is, apparently, still on holiday (bloody academics), it falls to me to get angry about today's New Zealand Herald.

"Half of Kiwis doubt global warming: poll" says the headline. Curious, I click to the article. "A Herald survey", it reports.

Oh, excellent. So the Herald has commissioned its very own poll? That means it'll be telling us all the data, not just cherrypicking a few findings that happen to catch the reporter's eye. It'll tell us how many people were surveyed, when and how, what questions they were asked, and how their answers varied with their demographics...

Well, not so much as it happens.
Almost one in five of 2296 respondents said the concept was a giant con, and a further 28 per cent said global warming had not been conclusively proved.
"Almost" one in five? You wouldn't care to be any more precise about that figure? Did they use the words "giant con", or was that suggested to them as Option 1? As for "conclusively proved" - what does that even mean?
An online survey of the Herald Readers' Panel was conducted by the Nielsen Company between December 10 and December 17, as world leaders prepared to meet at the UN climate conference in Copenhagen.

Thirty-eight per cent said global warming was a serious problem that needed action now, 13 per cent said it was the world's biggest challenge, and 2 per cent did not know.
Again, your words or theirs? I'm going to guess yours, but would it hurt you to publish the damn' questions?
Nineteen per cent - including almost 30 per cent of men aged 45 or older - thought it was a giant con and a waste of money.
A giant con and a waste of money. Two separate options, one portmanteau one, or just the reporter's own interpolation? I guess we'll never know.

And that, believe it or not, is all the data we're given about this poll - the one commissioned by this newspaper, for which it has presumably paid good money. No list of questions (let alone answers), nothing about the design of the form, the sample selection process or the demographics of the sample. Without which this research quite literally isn't worth the paper it's printed on.

This is a newspaper, right? Its entire raison d'etre is to report stuff. And this particular stuff is its own exclusive property. If the Herald doesn't tell us this stuff, no-one else even has the right to it.

No wonder Kiwis are uninformed about science, when their leading national daily newspaper can't even be bothered to publish its own original research...

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