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.

Valeri Simeonov strikes again: demands German “green jihadist” MEP be deported “by truck” to Turkey

Valeri Simeonov strikes again: demands German “green jihadist” MEP be deported “by truck” to Turkey

Valeri Simeonov is one of Bulgaria’s Deputy Prime Ministers (in charge of economy and demographic policies), a co-spokesman of the far-right United Patriots and head of the Bulgarian Council on Ethnic Minority Integration.

He’s also a man with a mouth, one that’s doing a good job embarrassing his government right now – a government that happens to be hosting the Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

This week Simeonov and his party, the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria (one of the three far-right parties that comprise the United Patriots), released a statement calling for the deportation of Ska Keller, the German co-chair of the Greens in the European Parliament. She’s been active in protests in Bulgaria against government plans to expand development in Pirin National Park, development that Keller and others say could lead to over-development in the park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This is all far too much for Simeonov and friends, who responded to Keller’s presence with all the subtlety that could be expected from someone who’s called Roma “naked, self-confident and ferocious humanoids.”

The NFSB statement, signed by Simeonov, called Keller a “green jihadist” and demanded that Keller be deported from Bulgaria – specifically, “declared persona non grata and be deported by truck to Kapikule,” a border crossing between Turkey and Bulgaria, since they “don’t think the cost of airfare can be justified.” The party even offers to provide transport for her.

Simeonov himself, of course, has some experience at Turkey-Bulgaria border crossings; he assaulted an elderly woman during a protest to stop Bulgarian Turks living in Turkey from crossing the border to vote in last year’s elections.

This love of Turkey and Bulgaria’s Turkish minority shines through when they demand to know “from the height of which minaret, this Ska (what a name?!) who graduated the Sabanci university in Istanbul and serves the justice of a foreign country… and wants the Bulgarian sovereign government to change its position.”

“I have been an active politician for many years and I have never had something like this happening to me – either in any European country, or in other, non-EU states,” Keller told BIRN.

But Simeonov’s no normal politician. As I wrote last year:

  • He’s been convicted of breaking anti-discrimination legislation with some of his comments about Roma.
  • Speaking in an interview in October with a cable television channel, Simeonov said that “bTV turned out to be like an infantile fatty with certain mental abnormalities put into a porcelain shop, not knowing what he is doing.”
  • After it emerged that a deputy minister from the United Patriots had been photographed giving a Hitler salute, Simeonov reportedly made comments to the effect that in the 1970s, he had been taken on a visit to Buchenwald and “Come to think of it, who knows what kind of joke photos we took there…can anyone say now, submit your resignation and go back to the village”.
  • “I cannot allow a handful of Sorosoids to badger us while we are trying to solve important problems.”
  • “…it is indisputed that a large part of the Gypsy ethnicity lives beyond any laws, rules and general human norms of behaviour. For them, the laws do not apply, taxes and charges are incomprehensible concepts, electricity, water, social and health insurance bills have been replaced by the belief that they have only rights, but not obligations and responsibilities. What has created the belief in our swarthy compatriots that everything is allowed… and that everyone is obliged to feed, dress and treat them for free?”
  • In 2013 his National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria (NFSB), in its platform, said it “initially envisages the abolition of all illegal structures in Gypsy ghettos and the creation with minimum resources of individual settlements outside the large settlements. Promotion of voluntary birth limitation through free contraceptives. The isolated settlements can be turned into a tourist attraction, which is a mass practice in the most developed democracies…”

Aside from the embarrassment he’s causing his own government, Simeonov doesn’t seem to be doing himself many favours these days. While the United Patriots managed to score just over 9 per cent in last year’s parliamentary elections, recent polls show them hovering at between 5 and 6 per cent. What’s more, the #SavePirin protests actually seem to be fizzling out a bit, at least here in Sofia. Has Simeonov just done his bit to help change that?

A “handful” versus a hundred in Houston

A “handful” versus a hundred in Houston

There’s a good chance you’ve already seen this story about Russian trolls behind a “Stop Islamization of Texas” protest in May 2016: “Organizers behind armed white supremacist protest in Houston revealed as Russian,” from ThinkProgress.

The original CNN story referred to in that piece is here (“Stoking Islamophobia and secession in Texas — from an office in Russia”); a link to a local Houston TV station’s video from the protest is here.

I read the original story last night (and the Twitterverse’s reaction to it), read it again this morning, and also took a look at the original CNN story and the video.

That’s when I thought something was off.

First, the lede to the ThinkProgress story:

Last May, nearly 100 demonstrators gathered around the Islamic Da’wah Center in downtown Houston, squaring off against one another in competing camps.

I can’t be the only person who quickly glanced at this story and immediately thought something like “wow, “the Russians” got 100 armed white supremacists out via one of these dumbass Facebook groups – that’s better than a dozen.” Actually, in chatting with a few other journos, I know I’m not.

But take a look at the lede to the original CNN story (emphasis mine):

On May 21 2016, a handful of people turned out to protest the opening of a library at an Islamic Center in Houston, Texas. Two held up a banner proclaiming #WhiteLivesMatter. A counter-protest began across the street; video shows a noisy but non-violent confrontation. 

OK. Now take a look at the actual video from the protest. You can see the white supremacist protesters at around 0:12 and 0:13 in front of the brick building; the counter-protesters are the larger group across the street.

That’s a handful, not a hundred. And phrasing your lede in a way that many readers will interpret as ‘a hundred’ armed white supremacist protesters is….yeah.

Listen, the Kremlin (or ‘the Russians,’ however we want to obsequiously phrase it) meddled in the 2016 election, just as they have and continue to do in other countries. But there’s this wave of coverage coming out of the US these days that’s hard to stomach, a wave that either assumes every single little thing they did has had a real impact – or worse, conveniently never bothers to ask the question in the first place. We can sex up our stories to ride the Russia wave, but it’s not going to make any of us look cooler once we get back to shore.


some random stats on Muslims in Canada, Czech Republic and Slovakia

some random stats on Muslims in Canada, Czech Republic and Slovakia

Because I am without a doubt the coolest kid on my block in Prague (and didn’t particularly feel like writing some dumbass numbered THREAD on Twitter), I spent a few minutes on Saturday night trolling through Canadian census data on Muslim populations in census metropolitan areas (CMAs: basically cities + suburbs and/or commuter areas), seeing how big or small they are compared to the population(s) of Muslims in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. (FWIW, all part of prepping a piece on Islamophobia in Slovakia and the general theme of Islamophobia really being trendy in places with barely any Muslims).

Background: there’s between 10-20,000 Muslims in the Czech Republic – a country of 10.6 million people, so at best 0.2% of the population – and around 5,000 next door in Slovakia, a country of 5.5 million (i.e., not even 0.1%). On the other hand, Canada’s got more than a million Muslims, making up more than 3% of the population.

Using the 2011 National Household Survey data (the most recent where religion is broken down by CMA), I estimated just how different some cities/CMAs in Canada are from both the Czech Republic and Slovakia:

  • Saskatoon: Around 295,000 people – the 17th largest CMA in Canada – with around 5,600 Muslims (~1.9%), more than the entire country of Slovakia.
  • Halifax: Around 400,000 people – the 13th largest CMA in Canada – with around 7,500 Muslims (~1.9%), also more than the entire country of Slovakia.
  • Winnipeg: Around 778,000 people with around 11,200 Muslims, as much as some of the low estimates of the Czech Republic and twice as many as Slovakia.
  • Edmonton (the entire CMA including us assholes from Sherwood Park, not just the city): 1.3 million people, with around 46,000 Muslims (3.5%-4% of the population).
    • In other words, my hometown has almost twice as many Muslims as the Czech Republic and Slovakia combined.
    • Even Fort McMurray (“Wood Buffalo,” technically) has around 3,400 Muslims in a population of around 73,000 and, unlike Slovakia, has a mosque.
Something Fort Mac has that the entire country of Slovakia doesn’t – a mosque (taken by me, November 2015)

Even tiny Lac La Biche, AB, population 8,300, has a mosque thanks to a longstanding Lebanese community there. It also has a community of Russian Old Believers outside of town. #TheMoreYouKnow.