I've been thinking on doing a few brief posts on seeing through spin, considering the growing escalation of techniques in Canada, which mirror an epidemic of it in the U.S. While my examples tend to look at the far-right, no one side of the social discussion is entirely innocent of spin - although in my experience, some far right sources are guilty of deliberate total obfuscation in a way that few other news and media sources can parallel.
Anyone who writes generates spin. The moment you write, you're selecting the words you use in order to maximize their effectiveness. I do it, although I hyperlink everything relentlessly (whether the source is from the right wing or left), so that readers can make up their minds for themselves whether they agree. But some deliberately omit, manipulate, relabel, cherry-pick, distort and change facts to try to make them fit a specific perspective is another issue entirely. This was seen vividly recently in one pseudo-news outlet's attempt to brush off LGB people as comprising 1.5% of the population.
A Lesson in Spin: Minimizing the Issue.
One technique a social group will use to manipulate perceptions about a debate is to minimize the issue by making the people negatively affected sound so marginal as to be "unimportant" - which is dubious in itself, but it tends to resonate with those readers who aren't directly impacted in some way, and seduces people into viewing marginalization as inconsequential.
It's especially expedient for anti-gay groups to minimize the number of LGB people lately, in order to excuse their opposition to anti-bullying initiatives that are inclusive of sexual orientation, with the reasoning that it doesn't really help kids to discourage anti-gay bullying anyway, and instead might somehow indoctrinate them to become gay like an inoculation gone awry.
A stark example is LifeSiteNews' favorite recent statistic that pegs the prevalence of lesbian, gay and bisexual people as being one and a half percent of the Canadian population.
They cite Statistics Canada, and when you hear Statistics Canada, you immediately think "census." That would seem to make it authoritative, wouldn't it? The only problem is that most heterosexual Canadians (those who don't barricade themselves in predominately LGB-hostile environments, anyway) know far more than that among their own circles of friends, family and acquaintances... so something's obviously skewed.
Alfred Kinsey's 1948 and 1953 publications provided the first comprehensive data gathering on LGB men and women, concluding that:
- 37% of males and 13% of females had at least some overt homosexual experience to orgasm;
- 10% of males were more or less exclusively homosexual and 8% of males were exclusively homosexual for at least three years between the ages of 16 and 55. For females, Kinsey reported a range of 2-6% for more or less exclusively homosexual experience/response.
- 4% of males and 1-3% of females had been exclusively homosexual after the onset of adolescence up to the time of the interview.
Several reassessments of that data have been made (a number of them discussed at the above link), with most results ranging from 4% of men and under 1% of women up to 35% of men and 20% of women. Conclusive statistics have proven impossible to gather, due to variances in the environment in which questions are asked, the changing social climate within which they're asked, whether the survey sample is an accurate cross-section of society or skewed by those participating.
There are also usually problems with the question which results in apples-versus-oranges comparisons of data: for example, the differences between "do you identify as gay" (i.e. self-selection) versus "have you had sexual experiences with a partner of the same sex" (pleasurability optional, i.e. incidence), versus "have you experienced attraction to someone of the same sex" (i.e. prevalence), versus using a benchmark of orgasm and/or attraction (both of which can change over a person's lifetime), versus "do you consider yourself exclusively homosexual or exclusively heterosexual" (i.e. value judgement that may vary from one respondent to another) - and that's before getting into the really muddled range of bisexual, pansexual and/or omnisexual experience that is sometimes erased altogether or alternately annexed into one side of the question or another.
Add to this the fear of being branded gay or lesbian (or even accepting oneself as gay, lesbian or bisexual) that some still experience, and data becomes a quagmire. Some of these surveys also attempt to include transsexuality and transgenderism, which aren't sexual orientations at all, and can raise questions for researchers about who is the same sex or the opposite sex.
People tend to accept the idea that gay and lesbian populations range around ten percent of a population, although it tends to vary whether or not that is a figure that includes bisexual people. Subsequent statistics have tended to be near that number (ranging from 6 to 14 percent), but because of the stigmas associated with sexual minorities (witness the number of anti-gay public figures who turn out to be gay), it's suspected that the actual number could be higher.
In using their 1.5% number, LSN likes to undermine Kinsey's and any other derivative research this way:
"Dr. Judith Reisman, a professor at Liberty University School of Law, debunked the 10% myth first proposed by psychologist Alfred Kinsey. Kinsey, she found, drew heavily on prison inmates and frequenters of homosexual bars for his surveys, though he presented them as indicative of the general population. Moreover, evidence suggests Kinsey's research on infants subjected the children to sexual torture."
For the moment, we'll need to overlook the fact that the Liberty University School of Law is the theological institution founded by Jerry Falwell as Lynchburg Baptist College in 1971 and has a long legacy of anti-gay activism. There was some inflated numbers of prisoners and frequenters of gay bars in some of Kinsey's original work. What is being omitted here though is that Paul Gebhard poured through Kinsey's data to remove these respondents, and in 1979 with Alan Johnson published The Kinsey Data, which reduced Kinsey's original numbers slightly, but not dramatically (i.e. Kinsey's original 37% number was revised down to 36.4%). Non-theological sources have tended to favor a ten percent number, which they usually find more consistent with their own research.
Here's LSN's assertion of the number, most recently in an article attacking The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (D&P, which LSN regularly tries to assert authority over) for agreeing with the generally-accepted 10% statistic:
The figure, according to experts, is a gross exaggeration pushed by homosexual activists with a view to normalizing homosexuality. Statistics Canada reports the prevalence in the country of homosexuals, lesbians and bisexuals to be 1.5% of the population.
If you follow the link you arrive at a Statistics Canada page not about census data, but about a 2004 General Social Survey (GSS) on victimization, which looked at the intersection between sexual orientation and victimization (sexual assault, physical assault, armed robbery, personal theft, vandalism, break-and-enter). In a footnote, we learn that 5% of respondents to the GSS declined to state their sexual orientation. A second footnote acknowledges the difficulty in deriving accurate numbers with a smaller survey (the GSS was voluntarily answered by 362,000 Canadians).
It's also worth noting that in 2004, Canada's social climate toward gays and lesbians was not as open as it is today - in fact, it was in the year leading up to the legalization of same-sex marriage, which (while a win) was preceded by several anti-gay campaigns to "defend marriage" and portray LGB people as a terrible threat to mainstream society.
Nevertheless, the 2004 GSS provides what is probably the lowest-appearing number available from an authoritative body in Canada, so it's ripe for cherry-picking. This is just one way that a majority can use a minority's fear and invisibility to further marginalize that minority.
In the meantime, if you're given statistics that are markedly different from your own experiences in everyday life, don't be afraid to dig a little deeper.
(Crossposted at Dented Blue Mercedes)