Sunday, 29 August 2010

Smolensk Plane Crash Fiasco

I don't want to get involved in political comment: I have never had the sympathy or understanding to be able to decide on other people's heartfelt responses. However, strong elements of farce are starting to emerge.

I don't trust opinion polls. They are often wrong for a very wide range of reasons, not least respondent unreliability and the difficulty of getting simple unbiased questions. This is made worse by what we see in the news. The polling company produces a press notice and summary designed to be interesting: they want clients to pay for the company's output. The press notice is then edited by journalists, if only for space reasons, who exaggerate the interest element, whilst often failing to understand what the results mean and with no idea how to present it. Finally headline writers come in with the task of making the whole item worth reading or listening to.

thenews.pl - smolensk-cross -the president should decide is an example of this. The headline says the Polish president should decide/have the final say (70% of people polled), with this as the headline and put in bold in the first paragraph. The following text has about 67% for the Warsaw President, 55% for the families and 53% for the church. Since this gives us 247% of pollsters' having an opinion, it is clear that something has gone wrong.

My guess is that individual people polled have chosen several options out of a list they are given in the poll. The question may well have been about which one should make the final choice, but the result shows clearly that there should not be one person, but there should be a representative group ie that the Polish President, etc should not be allowed to decide on his own. The article should really about who should be represented in the group deciding on the fate of the cross. I don't know whether it was the polling company or the journalists who did not expect this or who simply did not think it interesting enough. However, competent journalism should tell us this, rather than leaving us to figure out what they are talking about. The headline is one of those that completely fails to tell the truth, whilst not telling a single lie: the sign of a great headline writer, but the article creates it in this case.

Those of you used to translations of Polish into English might have expected me to add the incompetence of translation into the list of reasons for resulting inanities. However, thenews.pl is exceptional in normally having excellent English. The author of the English version has his initials at the bottom so you can trace the competent translators. Although I only looked when a short period of low competence - holidays? - was followed by good English, I think it was pg who particularly impressed me:, indeed, sufficient to wonder if he was English.

1 comment:

Christian said...

If that pg is the same pg that I know who at least used to work there, yes he certainly is English.