Flawed questions – example
Here is an exchange between me and a Parish Councillor on 11 June 2014 relating to the Parish questionnaire. My questions are in blue, Cllr’s reply is in purple:
Q33 In the last two years, have you had personal experience of any of the following?:
Mooring taken by another vessel – ‘Yes‘
Unreported damage to your moored vessel – ‘No‘
Speeding on the river – ‘Yes‘
What possible conclusion about my view can you ascertain from this? PLEASE ANSWER THIS [You could state your views in the comments section (I’m sure you will!). Failing that we won’t draw any conclusions about your views on these issues from your answers, that was not the purpose of the question.]
What possible action can you ascertain is required from this? PLEASE ANSWER THIS [Let’s say a large number of people had experienced speeding on the river. This is illegal. We could report this fact to the police, who might decide to take further action (I’m not talking about reporting individuals). Or maybe some other action would be appropriate, to increase measures to protect the saltmarsh (an important and vulnerable eco-system that is endangered by speeding vessels) for example. We are not asking you if you think speeding is a good or a bad thing (although I’m sure you will tell us anyway!) We will simply present the results and suggest possible actions arising from them, and you, along with everyone else, will be able to comment on this.]
This exchange illustrates many of my points.
My outlook on speeding
I use the river regularly and I am considerate to other river users. I do however break the speed limit. I do this because it is a blunt, outdated tool, and as long as I can do so whilst still considering other users, I am morally happy with this. I do not like breaking the law and believe that the bye-law should be changed to a more appropriate method of control other than speed. My wash and speed will do nothing to erode the salt marsh. My wash whilst speeding, is lower than the waves caused by the wind on some occasions. Many users do the same*. On a windy day, all of the lark sailing fleet and many of the rescue boats do the same. Most of the rowing skulls on a flat day, they all break the speed limit too. It is a blunt tool that does nobody any good. Even the large cruisers with a big wash – they kick up a big wash at 6 knots, which is below the speed limit, so the bye-law doesn’t even help the salt marsh in their case.
How the question relates to me
I must clearly answer ‘Yes’ as I have experienced speeding on the river.
Cllr has said that if a large number of people say that they have experienced speeding, then they may try to do more to get it stopped. This means that by answering honestly, I am adding to a weight of criticism against my actions (and more importantly against my view and my desire).
Yes it is illegal. We can sort this one by changing the law but it is assumed that we will want enforcement. We could conclude that, as so many people break this law, it is not widely supported. The question doesn’t get people’s opinions, it assumes them. In my case it assumes incorrectly.
The salt marsh erosion is not linked to speeding vessels, it is linked to wash size. Wash size and speed are not directly related at the speeds in question. This is an incorrect assumption, which will put a bias on the outcome. Speed and wash are constantly related so as to build a case to stop people speeding. Everyone with knowledge of the subject knows that this is a flawed argument yet it is sill being used. They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
Not everyone is concerned about the salt marsh erosion. It appears from Cllr’s answer, that we need to keep the vulnerable eco-system. Some may believe that it is natural for rivers to change their form over time and that maintaining the status quo is not an objective.
Now you may not agree with my viewpoint, I am not asking you to. All I am asking you to realise is that this question (as an example) cannot successfully solicit my view. If I answer it honestly, it assumes the opposite of my view. It is gathering evidence to fuel one side of an argument.If I want my view known, I have to write it in the comments! Any answer without comments will be assumed to support the salt marsh and enforcement viewpoint. That makes it a biased question.
Cllr even says in his reply ‘We are not asking you if you think speeding is a good or a bad thing‘. S/he is even stating here that s/he doesn’t care what I think the outcome should be. Surely this would have been a far better question as it would indicate whether better enforcement or a bye-law change were required.
*I don’t want anyone to be prosecuted for speeding on the river, but if there is enforcement, I will ensure that the police enforce in an unbiased manner.