on the use and abuse of statistics, Instrumentalizing Minorities edition

on the use and abuse of statistics, Instrumentalizing Minorities edition

This is what happens, Larry. This is what happens when you present data from one question from a two-year old survey in a sexy shaded map and let the Twitters have at it.

The tweet and article in question from Pew Research Global, here.

This sexy map and the corresponding article (which I’m sure considerably fewer people actually read) have got some rave and not-so-rave reviews on the one social network that rots my brain more than any other:

  • Ukraine Twitter? Happy. These numbers (apparently) prove that “Ukrainians are the least anti-Semitic [people] in eastern Europe,” the “most accepting of Jews,” and “more tolerant to minorities than any of its neighbours.”
  • The national news agency of Azerbaijan? Happy. Armenia, apparently, is “the most anti-Semitic country in central and eastern Europe,” they tweeted Thursday morning.
  • Armenian/Armenian-watcher Twitter? Unhappy, if not confused, with some suggesting the high number for Armenia could be rooted in lack of Israeli recognition of the Armenian Genocide and/or Israeli supply of weapons to Azerbaijan.
  • Polish nationalist Twitter? Unhappy. “Dirty manipulation,” since western European countries like France weren’t surveyed, where a Holocaust survivor was murdered last week in what French police are calling an anti-Semitic crime.
  • Islamophobes? Unhappy, because apparently all anti-Semitism is the result of Muslims and these numbers don’t jive with that theory.

This map – but, honestly, more the fevered reaction to it over the last day on social media – has got me pretty unhappy too, but for some different reasons

First (and relatively minor, in fairness) lot of people are suggesting this data’s new. It’s not. This report was released almost a year ago, based on surveys Pew did in central and eastern Europe in 2015 and 2016 on religious belief and national belonging. I still have a copy of this report on my mobile from last year.

Secondly, I’m not a fan of the question(s) and the way they’re presented in the survey.

This is the exact question that was asked. Identical questions were asked about Muslims, Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Roma, in that order.UntitledI don’t like this question. Yes, I understand what it’s basically drawn from (Bogardus social distance scale questions), but look at it in the context of the preceding survey questions and it’s just….weird. (Page 18, here).

The preceding questions are all about religious observance – here’s the three that precede Q59.

So we jump from these right into a question that’s basically HEY WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT JEWS

There’s no seguing into or introduction of the battery of questions on Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Roma; we move from “what do you think about your religion?” to “so tell me what you think of these minorities and/or people different from you.” It’s an odd jump, in my opinion, and one where more than one respondent must have wondered what the hell was going on.

Worse, though, is the question itself. Again, I get that these are somewhat standard questions – I’ve seen similar ones in other unrelated surveys – but, really, does “Would you be willing to accept Jews as: a. Members of your family, b. Neighbors, c. Citizens of our country” even make sense to an average respondent??

It makes me ask far, far too many questions about whether this question, and the data from it, is even reliable. How has this question been translated into the many languages used in actually administering the survey? Does it make any sense in them? Does it make less/more sense in some languages? Or, worst, does it mean different things to different respondents in different languages? If I was at the table discussing this survey in its design phases I’d have been asking a lot of questions about all this.

But what bothers me the most here is how these findings – or, more accurately, findings from *one question* on a two to three-year old survey – are being exploited.

As I’ve written about before, there’s a healthy crew of people out there who are more than happy to use Jews (or at least imagined representations of Jews) as a means to score political points (e.g., ‘look how well we treat our minorities,’ not like [insert enemy country here or Muslims in general]). Worse, though, are the ones who use The Jews In The Way That We Imagine Them as a cudgel to bash other minorities in their own countries (read: Muslims and Roma).

This is hypocritical, creepy and, if you’re a member of a majority and you’re doing this, what you are doing is bad and you should feel bad.