Your Guide to the Reality of Animal Circus

"The academic panel concluded that there appears to be little evidence to demonstrate that the welfare of animals kept in travelling circuses is any better or worse than that of animals kept in other captive environments" - Executive Summary of the DEFRA Circus Working Group 2007

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Friday, 29 July 2011

Lies, Damn Lies and Internet Opinion Polls (Part 2)

If you have read the first part of this post you will be aware of two things: Firstly that internet opinion polls have serious fundamental flaws. Secondly that the so-called "consultation" on animals in circuses, initiated between 21st December 2009 and 15th March 2010, included an electronic poll that gave significant bias to opponents of animal circuses. Even if you were not privy to this information you would think that educated people who would be a little suspicious of a result like 92-97% in favour of banning something that is still pulling regular mainstream audiences all over the country. However, this preposterous result has been quoted and touted by MPs, journalists and celebrities
without question as "proof" of public opinion being against animal circuses.

Interestingly, a year after the poll a paper on the inaccuracy of electronic surveys was reported on the BBC and published in an academic paper. Both the BBC and the paper, written by a Microsoft research team in June 2011, focused on the biased nature of typical surveys, using surveys on sex and cybercrime as prime examples. It paints a familiar picture for those who support traditional circus and have had such supposed evidence brandished in their faces by those who really should know better.

However, this new research didn't stop "The Independent" newspaper from taking everything a step further with their petition to ban wild animals from circus. This newspaper typically used to present itself as a broadsheet for the classic liberal left, but since 2003 it has become little more than a tabloid in form and content. It has picked up something  The title of this publication is somewhat ironic considering it did little to research the other side of the animal circus story. Instead it took the extremist view and happily totted up a huge number of votes for a ban on animals in circuses as it published a stream of articles condemning the practice. Backbench MPs loved this populist style campaign with the enemy that had no representation in Parliament and happily quoted the results of the survey as if it were the word of the general public.

"The Independent" petition turned out to be perhaps the most egregious example of flawed electronic polling. As Gail Wilmot pointed out in her reflections post this petition made no attempt to stop manipulation. Voters could easily re-post themselves up under multiple aliases. In fact, circus supporters checked the ease of this process by posting up under a number of very obviously fake pseudonyms. They had most of the cast of Mickey's Playhouse up there at one stage! Some of the screenshots, taken in real time and shown in this post, demonstrated how often often supporters of the petition re-posted without even bothering to change their name!

A couple of months back a favourite TV series of mine finished somewhat abruptly with a cliffhanger episode. The network declared that it would not be commissioning another season. I found an official online petition that had been created to bring back series. It had worked in the past, so they argued why not for this series, which has a strong cult following. I voted. My wife was also a fan of the show and decided she wanted too. She was refused based on our same address - one vote per household. The petitioners were keen that they present their representation clean of any attempts to manipulate the figures. I was astounded! If an online TV fan petition to save a cult TV show can have such security measures in place then what is the Independent's excuse?

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