Category Archives: Research

Opinions Are Not Sacrosanct

I’ve lost count of the times someone on Facebook or Twitter has told me that I should “respect” their opinion. I always tell them, “I don’t give a fuck about your opinion” and they, like some needy child, will always wail, moan and stamp their feet and accuse me of all kinds of things. As someone once said “Opinions are like arseholes, everyone has one”. Those who offer their opinions en lieu of a reasoned argument need to bear this in mind.

Opinions also tend to be confused for coherent and well-constructed arguments. There is nothing well-constructed about opinions, they are the product of an emotional reaction to someone or some thing, or they’ve been produced by the media and repeated without question . Yet, if you use the word ‘argument’ in your response, these people will confuse it with the word ‘quarrel’ or ‘disagreement’. An argument or a thesis is based on reading/study and is supported by the production of evidence. Opinions require no evidence. Hence, they are useless in a debate.

So what’s the difference between an opinion and an argument?

An example of an opinion is “I like McDonald’s burgers because they’re nice”. That statement is based on how a person feels about McDonald’s in relation to Burger King or any other fast food outlet. It is entirely subjective. There is no evidence to support the statement.

An example of an argument is “I hate McDonald’s because they refuse to recognise unions on their premises and have sacked unionised workers. Therefore, I boycott them”. Here, I have not only made a statement, but I have supported it with some evidence in the form of a link and given you my reasons for disliking McDonald’s. If I wished I could have added more evidence to support my thesis.

Recently, anti-Corbynites, Tories and Kippers have shouted in near unison that “Jeremy Corbyn is unelectable”. There is no evidence offered and the opinion is based almost entirely on narratives produced by opinion-formers in the mass media. If you attempt to press them to offer an explanation for this narrative, they will almost always mention a recent poll. But are polls evidence? No. Why do I say that? Because polls are not peer-reviewed and those who interpret the data aren’t self-reflexive. Moreover, the way in which respondents are led to a conclusion is rarely, if ever, discussed. Polling companies will preface a question with a statement like “It has been said that Jeremy Corbyn is unelectable”. Already, the notion that Corbyn is “unelectable” has been fixed in the respondent’s mind and they will offer a Pavlovian response on cue.  Remember, these are called opinion polls for a good reason.

Polls don’t exist to measure public opinion. On the contrary, they exist to shape it.

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Filed under Opinion polls, Research, Society & culture

The thing about research is…

..it can be pretty awful, faulty even dangerous stuff. I’m not talking about my own research, rather the research that is conducted by think-tanks, political parties or their members. Political parties like the Conservatives, Labour and UKIP will present research as though it was conducted in a hermetically sealed chamber. Meanwhile the media will cherry-pick the best parts of the research because it makes a good story. Remember all those news items about the ‘latest medical research’ and how the telly journo told you that ‘butter was worse for you than margarine’?  Yes, that nugget was cherry-picked.

The upmarket tabloids like the Daily Mail and the Daily Express thrive on moral panics and health scares; they will produce ‘evidence’ that they have filleted from some piece of research and present it as factual. Recently I posted an example of some ‘research’ that was carried out by former UKIP leader, Malcolm Pearson that claimed the BBC was institutionally biased against them and other Europhobes. A certain MEP who appears frequently in this blog, presented the research as ‘methodologically sound’ but was it? Well, for a start the research was conducted with the outcome already in mind. That is to say, the outcome was already established before any research took place; it was self-confirming and selective.

Think tanks will always produce ideologically skewed research. For example anything that comes from Policy Exchange or the Centre for Social Cohesion needs to be examined against an ideological backdrop. In the case of the CSC, we know that its director, Douglas Murray, is a neo-conservative whose appearances on the BBC’s Question Time or his many speaking engagements act as the means to disseminate CSC’s research. But the research that is conducted by CSC is on the same subject: Islam and the so-called Islamization of Europe. The message is repeated ad nauseum and ad infinitum.

Last year, Policy Exchange produced some research that informed us that it would be better if people moved from the north to Oxfordshire to take up [phantom] jobs there. But the research was based on a flawed premise: that the North is beyond help. It also helped to reinforce the north-south divide in the mind of the southerner. I also talked about this research in an earlier blog. Because of its potential for embarrassment, Cameron rejected it. But this doesn’t stop some Tories from holding an image in their minds of an entire region full to bursting with work-shy people.

Singling out Sunderland as an example of a town in decline, the report says: “It is time to stop pretending that there is a bright future for Sunderland and ask ourselves instead what we need to do to offer people in Sunderland better prospects.”

The Conservatives were desperate to distance themselves from the report last night, which threatened to damage months of work by a team led by William Hague to win northern urban strongholds held by Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

So the real reason behind this ‘research’ was electoral rather than social? Well, there’s a surprise.

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