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June 22, 2007


"And to say that Bush should act on the opinions of uneducated, uninformed voters is sad, at best."

Hey, it worked for Clinton.

That was pretty funny! Of course it depends on what the definition of "worked" is ;-)

I had a recent exchange on this issue and the gentleman shut me off as soon as he found out that I am against ESCR. He could not understand the difference between the different sources of stem cells. People like this just have listened to all the sound bites on so called "cures", and ignore the humanity of the embryo being destroyed. Lori

Here's another approach to try. Ask this gentleman what his view is. Then ask clarifying questions to make sure you've understood him. After that, I'd ask for his reasons. Remember that he bears the burden of proving any claims he's making. If he claims that ESCR even though it kills embryos, then clarify his belief about the embryo: is the embryo a human organism? Does it have human rights? How did you come to that conclusion?

At STR, we call this the Columbo tactic, after the lovable detective who always got his man because he asked the right questions. Our goal is not to get the man, though. We want to get at the ideas and clarify them for people.

Notice that with the Columbo tactic, you're moving the conversation along without having to do the work. It also allows you to listen to the other person, which helps them want to listen to you. If you're finding that someone isn't listening to you, that might be an indication that you're not listening to him. I don't know in your case, of course, but test the method above and see if it helps.

Sometimes people are just close-minded. If there's any hope of helping them, it's almost certainly through asking more questions.

What is being described here isn't education; it's called push-polling and it's unethical.

A person truly educated in a topic would have read broadly on a topic and would have been exposed to fair debate on a level playing field. There is no way that level of information can be packed into a question and no time for real reflection.

Feeding a person an opinion in the guise of a fact and eliciting a quick response based on that "fact" has nothing to do with "education". Zogby too often does this sort of thing.

It is a sad reflection on the sad state of our MSM that folks aren't better informed but cooking the books won't help things.

P.S. While push-polling is always unethical and intellectually dishonest it can lead to real evil. Google "race-baiting South Carolina 2000" for an example where push-polling helped lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people.

Sounds like a good tactic. It seems to me I recall Stephanie Grey talking about something similar that she calls the "Socratic Method". Lori

Winston Churchill said "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."

How I am inclined to agree, but I know that the voter's ignorance is not the whole story and mainstream news media certainly deserves much of the blame.

Nonetheless, public policy seems to be secretly developed and then sprung on people. It is no wonder that people don't appreciate this. There really ought to be greater transparency in such issues of public policy, otherwise, with a veto or a ban people are inclined to believe that something of value is being withheld.

The notion that something of value is being withheld features prominently in Fall of Man story of Genesis. Jews and Christians should be very much aware of the need to defend against this mode of attack.

Said the serpent "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

Reality: none of use are truly like God and many of us need bifocals to see.

Hi Alvin you might find this article on policy formation interesting:


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Media commenta by Brad Delong:


I agree that the ignorance of voters isn't the whole problem. But I'm not sure I'd blame the media either. No one has to listen or watch any certain media outlet (although, walking through the airport today, the frequent television screen makes it harder not to watch). I agree with Postman's assessment and say that if we are ignorant or ill-informed, it's our own fault (especially with the pervasive internet and widespread libraries). When you comment on greater transparency, I assume you mean that you wish the media was more careful to provide more balanced and detailed information about topics instead of giving such a shallow treatment. Is that what you mean? If so, I agree with that.

Interesting poll:


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Alan, a poll that asks more specific questions in order to determine people's opinions isn't necessarily push-polling. Neither would a poll that gave definitions of things necessarily be unethical. Obviously, one could distort definitions to fit one's perspective, but I don't see why this is necessarily so.

For example, one could ask, "Do you agree with President Bush that the federal government should fund adult stem cell research but not embryonic stem cell research?" That clarifies the position they're giving their opinion on without skewing the results. If, on the other hand, the pollsters just ask, "Do you agree with the president's veto on stem cell research?" the results they get will be skewed by people who misunderstand what the president's position is--they may think he's banning something (rather than not funding), or they may think he's rejecting all stem cell research. And if they're responding with a misunderstanding of the question, then their real, more precise opinions will not be measured.

But if you're referring to Steve's request that we ask a few friends those questions to get an idea of what they know about stem cell research, there's certainly nothing unethical about that.

Hi Amy, the problem with your version is that it presumes a full understanding of the rules behind the phrase "federal funding"; rules that often result in a de facto ban.

There are, of course, other assumptions inherent in an even fuller question and we wind up with a question that draws in too many contaminating factors.

It is simply impossible to ask a serious question on a complex policy issue that will result in a meaningful answer from the average person in a time frame that would allow for an affordable poll.

A well run focus group can be helpful, but this isn't easy, given my experience with focus groups.

There is no problem, of course, in asking ones friends a few questions.

Hi Alvin, here is some more information we could have used a few years ago:


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Ignorance should not be allowed as an excuse though it must be dealt with as a reality. Diligence in consulting multiple outlets can help to sort things out and this is wise, but dishonest media is still deserving of rebuke.

Being informed today is much more convenient. The internet is certainly a large part of this convenience. Having the internet alone is not the answer. The internet is quite a powerful tool and those who can should wield it rightly with honesty, but this too does not always happen.

Steve, great discernment and wisdom is often needed in determining what the truth is. This is a reason why your ministry's stated goal of "Clear thinking Christianity" is so important. I love the way that Greg steps through arguments rather than just stating a position. Kudos to Greg, by the way, on deflating the claim that the Roman Catholic Church was the first church. Give him a pat on the back for me. The importance of your particular style of ministry stems from the fact that people today are mostly taught what to think rather than how to think.

To clarify my previous post, my call for transparency is addressed mostly at the government in general in regards to public policy alone for I do allow that other sorts of issues are often best kept secret. The media may be part of the reason information does not really seem to be communicated.

What I blame the mainstream media for is the shallow treatment (sensationalism) and the distortion of the information, as you mentioned.

Alan, Thanks for the links. It may well be that the lack of transparency in the present White House administration is largely attributable to one man. I am not sure, however, given that the previous administration was so embroiled in scandal and distracted from its usual duties, of just how much of it may just be systemic rather than particularly personal. Certainly, each administration will have its own combination of general style and peculiarities.

Hi Alvin, actually the previous administration wasn't "embroiled in scandal", there was just a lot of bad reporting. Check out the archives of the Daily Howler. Also it is useful to discriminate here. There are personal failings which are problematic but leave the public square relatively untouched (Clinton), "run of the mill" corruption (William Jefferson)which sadly will always be with us, and off the chart stuff like the DOJ and the WP articles I linked that strike at the core of constitutional government. The media has real problems in these areas. The White House Correspondents Dinner reminds one of the last scenes in Animal Farm.


This post reminded me of a story I read on Barna the other day.

Check out these polling results concerning poverty in the US:


I found this quote telling:

The survey showed that those people who have no specific religious faith they embrace,atheists and agnostics, emerged as the segment of people least likely to do anything in response to poverty. They were less likely to engage in eight of the nine specific responses measured, and were the faith segment least likely to participate in eight of the nine responses evaluated.

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