Pew Poll Mischaracterized by NY Times

Guest Opinion by Kip Hansen


takin_a_surveyUsing the ever-popular propagandistic visual cliché —  a photo of back-lit steam rising from a power plant (making it look like air- polluting black smoke) —   the NY Times, represented by Lisa Friedman, boldly mischaracterizes the results of the latest international Pew Survey on perceived threats, using the headline:  Islamic State and Climate Change Seen as World’s Greatest Threats, Poll Says.

“Climate change is essentially tied with the Islamic State as the most-feared security threat across much of the world — except in the United States, where cyberattacks are considered a greater danger than global warming.”

What are they really counting?

The Pew  Survey announcement  uses this language:  “Globally, People Point to ISIS and Climate Change as Leading Security Threats”  stating in their lead paragraph:

“People around the globe identify ISIS and climate change as the leading threats to national security, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. The survey asked about eight possible threats. While the level and focus of concern varies by region and country, ISIS and climate change clearly emerge as the most frequently cited security risks across the 38 countries polled.” —  Pew

What exactly do they (the Pew researchers) mean by “leading”? (repeating, for emphasis)

“While the level and focus of concern varies by region and country, ISIS and climate change clearly emerge as the most frequently cited security risks across the 38 countries polled.” — Pew

What was the exact question asked? (at least in English):

“I’d like your opinion about some possible international concerns for (survey country). Do you think that ____ is a major threat, a minor threat or not a threat to (survey country)?” — Pew

There were eight threats (in most countries) asked about:  ISIS, climate change, cyberattacks from other countries, condition of the global economy, large number of refugees from Iraq and Syria, U.S./Russia/China power and influence (separately).

“In 13 countries, mostly in Latin America and Africa, publics identify global climate change as the topmost threat. It is the second-ranked concern in many other countries polled.” — Pew

Note that the Pew Survey did not ask respondents to rank threats in order of seriousness, only to characterize them as a major threat,  minor threat  or not a threat.  Whenever Pew says “leading” or ”topmost” they only mean that the item was characterized as a major threat more often, by a higher percentage of respondents — in other words, more people in that country considered that  particular threat a major threat.   There were no ranking questions such as:  What do you consider to be the greatest threat to your country out of the following eight items?

Obviously, there were no open ended questions asking simply “What do you consider to be the greatest threat to your country?”

The NY Times stumbles along, pushing the climate change threat message while losing the thread on the Pew Survey:

“While Latin America is certainly vulnerable to the consequences of climate change, its countries rarely rank among the most at risk. That unfortunate distinction tends to go to Chad, Sudan, low-lying island states and other places where poverty and civil strife meet rising seas, floods and drought. So it’s not surprising perhaps to see so many countries in Africa put climate change at the top of their worry list. But 74 percent of people surveyed in seven South American and Latin America countries cite climate as their top global concern, the highest of any region surveyed.” — NY Times

This survey was not conducted in Chad, Sudan, or any of the low-lying island states — at all. Nothing in the survey was related to any actual real-world threat — only perceived threat.

The only “Latin American” country surveyed (outside of South America) was Mexico — no Central American or Caribbean countries were surveyed.  In South America, only seven countries were surveyed. In Africa, only seven  — out of fifty-four (54) African nations.

None of the nations “cite climate as their top global concern” — no survey respondent was asked to answer any questions about their “global concern(s)” at all, no less their “top global concern”.  All survey questions were about “a threat to (survey country)?”

One can only hope that someday the editors of the NY Times will hire a new Public Editor with guts and high standards of journalistic practice and ethics —  and hold some of these so-called journalists’ feet to the fire for articles this this — which I consider journalistic malpractice.

The above examples of news-cum-advocacy-cum-propaganda is no surprise from the NY Times — given that the assignment to cover the Pew Research Center’s Spring 2017 Global Attitudes Survey was passed to Lisa Friedman, a reporter on the Times’ climate desk (and proud co-owner of a pizzeria in Washington’s Bloomingdale neighborhood) rather than someone on the International Affairs desk — which might have been a better choice as the survey included the risks presented by ISIS, the Moslem refugee problem, nationally-sponsored cyberattacks, and undue influence of the three super- powers.

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Author’s Comment Policy:

Always glad to answer your questions and engage in civil conversation about the topic at hand — in this case the Pew Global Attitudes Survey (Spring 2017) and the [mis-] use of survey results in the press.

It might, however, be better not to get me started on this topic at all…

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69 thoughts on “Pew Poll Mischaracterized by NY Times

  1. As the Pew survey is not all that well done, it is difficult to determine anything from it. Failing to ask the respondents what they regarded as the major threats to themselves would be rather more informative, and avoid biasing the results.

  2. Perhaps if we AVERAGED the Pew survey results there would be an improvement? (sarc- inside joke)

  3. Who commissioned the poll and why did they make the results public?
    Sometimes folks commission a poll because they’re actually interested in the answers. In that case they’re prone to keep the results private.
    Sometimes folks are trying to make a point. In that case the poll is probably worthless and will be made public.
    Sometimes news organizations will commission polls at election time. They could sincerely want to report on public opinion but, even if they are honest and also know what they’re doing, the polls can still be pretty misleading. link

      • Re: Pew’s Pro-AGW Position

        Born in 1951, Rebecca W. Rimel is the current President and Chief Executive Officer of the Pew Charitable Trusts (PCT). …. Under Rimel’s stewardship, fully 80 percent of PCT’s funding goes to pubic-policy initiatives related to the environment, health and human services, and state policy issues. The PCT environment initiative has three primary objectives: “reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming; halting the destruction of the marine environment, and protecting intact wilderness ecosystems on public lands.”
        Says Rimel:
        “Close your eyes, go back 11 years and think about global warming. Most of the public, none of the policy makers and no one in corporate America believed it was real. They thought it was pseudoscience, environmentalists gone berserk.”
        To alter that perception, Rimel and PCT focused their efforts on
        — funding the work of scientists whose research might ultimately persuade legislators and business leaders to support initiatives aimed at stemming the tide of global warming.
        — In a related effort, Rimel and Pew worked to enlist the support of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. “This was a big deal,” says Rimel. “We got 38 [CEOs] who broke ranks … who were willing to say that global warming indeed does exist. ….

        (Source: )
        In a way, Ms. Rimel is to be pitied, for she is almost painfully naïve. She, a true AGW believer, it appears, actually thinks those 38 CEO’s believe human CO2/other emissions cause global warming. She thinks she/PCT GOT them to stand up for “the cause.” LAUGH-OUT-LOUD. They are SOLELY saying what they did/do for the MONEY they want to make off the AGW propaganda.
        Apparently, the Pew family (several are on the PCT Board) are all members of the Holy Church of AGW, too, or Rimel would have been out of a job long ago.
        So. The PCT is, essentially, a Cult’s funding wing. And keeping people poor, miserable, and ignorant, is what cults do.

      • Thank you very much Kip and Janice. Once again we have advocacy masquerading as science. It comes as a surprise to some people that folks no longer trust experts.

        In The Death of Expertise, Nichols condemns what he describes as the many forces trying to undermine the authority of experts in the United States. He blames higher education, the internet, and the explosion of media options for the anti-expertise and anti-intellectual sentiment which he sees as being on the rise. While conceding that experts do sometimes fail, he says the best answer to this is the self-correcting presence of other experts to recognize and rectify systemic failures. link

        Things like this Pew poll are the reason folks no longer trust experts. The public aren’t nearly as stupid as the experts think.

      • CBob: Thank you for so courteously acknowledging my comment. Much appreciated!
        And you make an excellent point: The AGWers have done long-term (though it is reversible) damage to the credibility of bona fide/honest science.

      • KH –
        True. Both the Times and Pew are used as propaganda the boys behind the curtain when subtle disinformation/obfuscation/diversion/boogeymen are needed to further the facade.
        “While the level and focus of concern varies by region and country, ISIS and climate change clearly emerge as the most frequently cited security risks across the 38 countries polled.”— Pew
        Can’t tell me that neither of these institutions have a clue about global warming, ISIS, “terrorist attacks” hoaxes/lies/schemes/scams.
        They know. They’re OZ tools, on call for manufactured information as needed.

      • “While conceding that experts do sometimes fail, he says the best answer to this is the self-correcting presence of other experts to recognize and rectify systemic failures.”
        The problem is that those experts who to point out and rectify systemic failures are shouted down, told to shut up and labeled as heretics. It is therefore not an environment that supports self-correcting.

  4. People who are credulous and gullible, with no capacity for skepticism, and incapable of understanding logic and numerical measurements shouldn’t write about complex issues. But they do.

  5. Climate change is the greatest threat in Venezuela (my guess, but in line with NYT). As climate has always been changing, time is the greatest threat everywhere. You keep dying since your birth.

    • Curious George ==> Actually, the Global economy was the threat that received the most “major threat” mentions in the survey there, followed by Climate Change.
      I am curious (no pun…) as to why South America would be so concerned about Climate Change. anyone there have an answer?

  6. Yes, Mr. Hansen, you are right. The NY Times took that little pile of Pew straw and created quite the flimsy little scarecrow out of it.
    Even if, however, ad arguendo, the Pew poll had been well-constructed, with meaningful results, it would do nothing more than answer this question:
    How well does the AGW propaganda work on a population which is largely science-illiterate (possibly just plain illiterate, too) and whose access to science facts via the internet (e.g., via blogs like WUWT) or other sources is extremely limited?
    How sad. The solar, wind, and battery enviroprofiteers have these poor souls clamoring for the chains to keep themselves languishing in the dungeon of energy poverty — forever.
    Correction : not “sad.” AGW is just plain e v i l. Don’t agree? Ask the families of those burnt to death due to cladding (the sprinkler system was not the controlling causation of many of those deaths in London) done SOLELY in the name of serving:
    a lie.

    • I was going to point out something similar. Accept the poll at face value, then all the responses about “Climate Change” are a crude metric for the effectiveness of propaganda in that country.
      {in short}
      There were 8 items to rate as to the relative danger they posed, ISIS, Climate Change, cyberattacks, etc.
      I would propose a 9th item, your own government.
      “Do you think that your own government is a major threat, a minor threat or not a threat to (survey country)?”
      I wonder what would happen, especially in Venezuela.

      • TonyL ==> The thing is, they weren’t given 8 items to rate … they were just asked, for each item separately, if they though the thing (say US influence) was a “major, minor or no”” threat to their country. The “leading” or “topmost” threat was simply the one that got the highest percentage of “major threat” evaluations.
        The NY Times writer misrepresented the results as if people had rated the threats in order of seriousness.

    • I’m disappointed that a respected academic (if this comment was indeed by yourself) making such an emotive and sweeping statement about the Grenfell Tower disaster, given the following:
      (1) No findings have been officially released as the inquiry has not been completed.
      (2) Early indications point to the primary cause of the severity of the fire being the use of incorrect non-fire retardant PIR insulation panels on such a tall residential structure, against BOTH British and EU standards, with other construction details exacerbating the spread.
      (3) Unlike the British Standard (which could have been used, EU standard is the minimum requirement), the EU testing procedure doesn’t require a full as-installed test on all components simultaneously, but unlikely to be relevant because of (2).
      (4) In hindsight, the decision not to commence evacuation of the entire building earlier (which would normally be contrary to standard procedures for a fire within a concrete structure such as Grenfell), may well be a contributory factor to the high death toll.
      I think everyone would agree that the installation of a sprinkler system could never have prevented the fire spreading outside of the building. It is possible that a system could have extinguished the initial fridge fire earlier. We will never know if such a system would have prevented the fire from spreading within the other flats for residents to escape, once the go-ahead was given for full evacuation to commence.
      It is my heartfelt wish that absurd CAGW arguments are torn down and exposed, along with their advocates seeing jail time for their fraudulent misuse of taxpayers’ money, but to attempt to blame it for the Grenfell fire is a straw man argument, the like of which is all too often used by the same said advocates.

  7. Perception of a threat from (human caused) climate change is merely a measurement of how effective the propaganda campaign has been in marketing the exaggerated risks to accomplish the agenda.
    What is it exactly that these people are afraid of?
    If it’s more flooding, then it’s rooted in verifiable science. Most of the other scary stuff is coming up short in the observational world and is still based mainly on a speculative theory and the global climate model projections(that are too warm).
    How many of these same people know that the planet is massively greening up?
    That inconvenient fact, a result of increasing CO2 and climate change doesn’t get passed along.
    People fearing climate change is just a measurement of how many convincing sounding dangerous climate change stories appear in the news/media, internet and tv.
    Same thing about the threat from ISIS. Not disputing the seriousness but what do people know about it other than what they get from their assumed to be reliable sources?
    Most people are not meteorologists or climate scientists. They don’t have weather records and have no clue how a climate model is used. Many are weak in critical thinking and rely on their favorite news sources to tell them what they should know.
    News sources sensationalize for ratings and to increase circulation. The majority have a liberal bias. I worked as a chief meteorologist in television for 11 years. EVERYTHING revolved around ratings. Our salary……..our jobs. We used to say “It doesn’t matter what you say, as long as you get people to watch!”. During elections, the 2 main news anchors cheered(off camera) every time a democrat was declared winner.
    Just a medium market television station in Indiana but I would bet it’s not that much different elsewhere.

    • Mike Maguire ==> The median age of the citizens of South America is 30 years.
      James Hansen kicked off global climate hysteria in 1988 — 29 nine years ago.
      Most South Americans have been subjected to Climate Change Hysteria (which used to be called Global warming) their entire lives….
      Median Age in Africa is ….ready for it?….19.6 years. Oceania? 33 years. Europe (Nothern, Southern, Eastern, Western) about 42.
      Nearly all these populations have been exposed to propaganda for all or most of their lives.

      • Kip,
        I talk to a lot of elementary and junior high classes about weather. When I discuss the science of CO2(which includes greenhouse gas warming) and get to the part about the planet greening up and the big contribution towards record crop yields………jaws drop open……..especially the teachers.
        Our science teachers are teaching that CO2 is pollution. Starting early in elementary school, thru college level environmental science classes, this is part of their education. There is no more effective way to impart this junk science into young brains.
        It amazes me that they can teach:
        Sunshine + H2O + CO2 + Minerals = Food/Sugars +O2
        but completely fail to recognize CO2 as the beneficial gas that it is.
        Here is an example of the crapola that our children are taught in our schools:
        “Increased CO2 in the atmosphere leads to smog. Because of an increase in smog, the amount of sunlight reaching earth is restricted, which causes a disruption in the process of photosynthesis in plants.”
        So this lesson teaches that increasing CO2 is bad for plants. Contrast that with any of the hundreds of actual studies done on plants in a CO2 enriched environment. Just the opposite is true:
        Plant Dry Weight (Biomass) Responses to
        Atmospheric CO2 Enrichment
        Or with the reality of our planet greening up:
        Carbon Dioxide Fertilization Greening Earth, Study Finds
        Of course climate change is something entirely different than photosynthesis(even though the past 40 years has featured the best weather/climate for the majority of life in at least 1,000 years). However, if one is truly objective and scientific about CO2, the entire picture matters…. not just the part about global climate models projecting dangerous warming/climate change based on a speculative theory.

      • Mike Maguire ==> The substitution of politically correct propaganda for actual knowledge in our schools (all of them, public and private, K-12 and universities) is the real disaster of our times.

      • Thank you for that, Mike. I’ve emailed the author of that misinformation for NY schoolchildren.
        I’d forward you a copy of that email, but I don’t have your address. (If you email me, I’ll forward it to you.) However, when I was looking for your address I found you on YouTube, which some of the other folks here might enjoy:

  8. And when the Pew Center conducts an good straight national polling, and this national media doesn’t like the results, they simply don’t report it.
    On the passage of the Arizona immigration enforcement bill – AZ 1070. The Pew folks went right out literally summarizing those supposedly two most contentious measures in the bill (the ones Holder blocked – the ones that the boycotts were over) and found that nationally:
    • 73% said they backed a measure requiring people to produce documents verifying their legal status if police ask for them,
    • while 67% approve of allowing police to detain anyone who cannot verify that they are in the country legally.
    • just 25% support President Obama’s immigration policy, which includes legalizing millions of unauthorized migrants
    Our national activist main stream media (which normally loves the Pew folks) didn’t like this one.
    The American people never found out how they all felt.
    Putin never had it so easy.

  9. See the attached link to get the answers out of a survey that you want. It is hilarious (from the show ‘Yes Minister’. .

    • well, I don’t know why the link itself wasn’t show. Trying this again. this was from a show called ‘ Yes, Prime Minister’

  10. The greatest threat to civilisation is the abuse of statistical methods such as in the case of this poll and its reporting by the mainstream moronic media.

  11. From the article: “One can only hope that someday the editors of the NY Times will hire a new Public Editor with guts and high standards of journalistic practice and ethics — and hold some of these so-called journalists’ feet to the fire for articles this this”
    Why would they do that? They like what they print. It has a purpose all its own. They don’t need some do-gooder interfering with the agenda by requiring the truth.

  12. Doing a survey is full of dangers. I’ve never done one other than in American-English to speakers of same. It must be a great experience doing multiple cultures. One learns a lot in doing surveys but not much about the stuff you want to know. By phone, by mail, on a busy street — Murphy’s Law rules.
    A simple example:
    A college gave surveys to students to evaluate instructors. On a 1 to 5 scale, with 3 labeled as Fair.
    One freshman told the instructor something like this: “I really liked this class and you because you are always fair to us — so I marked all the questions with a “fair.” Oops!

    • Tough call. The headline is sexual assault on campus, the report shows at least four times as many assaults on students took place away from campus. But at least they did provide a legitimate definition of sexual assault in the survey. The sexual harassment definition includes anyone looking at you that you don’t find attractive, and as far as gender goes, ‘trans/gender diverse’ was a choice for identity of the victim, but wasn’t listed as a choice for for identity of the perpetrator.

      • Ted ==> Yes, like so many things the definitions are vague and so broad that nearly any human interaction could be classified as sexual harassment and any sexual contact, if not specifically asked for (or even if asked for if the “victim” changed their mind afterward), is a sexual assault — even accidentally bumping against the victim on the bus ….

  13. Shouldn’t one file a complaint or send a letter to the editor, perhaps link this post? I think a there should be a shaming award by listing writers and a separate list of news outlets who are the worst offenders in some monthly publication.
    CNN got so totally focused on one story – Trump people colluding with Russia – it began quickly to run thinner and so hysterical that their ratings plummeted to 14th a after some rerun I hadn’t heard of. And this means even the left was disgusted. There was a major change in giving more national and international news and getting more Trump supporters into the collusion story. With Democrat supporting civil servants leaking stuff wholesale, the fact they haven’t leaked anything substantive on this main story suggests a lot of fake news here.

    • daveburton ==> You are right, of course, but the Pew people and the NY Times used different groupings of the countries. I tried to be clear with what I wrote, including quotes around my use of Latin America.

  14. Pew! Unfortunately, when I hear the word, it makes me think that something is on the nose. I can’t help thinking of the interjection “pee-YOO” 😉
    *Etymology: Pew, possibly from French putois (“skunk”) or puer (“to stink”) or a truncation of putrid. Alternative forms: P.U., PU, pue, peuh, peugh, pyoo, peeyou, pooh…phew.

  15. The United Nations has an ongoing poll ,” the UN survey for a better world”.
    It has more than 9.7 million voters to date who listed in order of priority some 16 issues of concern.
    “Action taken on climate change” is last of the 16 issues.
    It seems that in the marketplaces of Asia and Africa no one is talking about climate change as a first order issue.

  16. So Pew along with other NGO floods a market with a “CO2 is bad” campaign then takes a poll. How funny.

  17. Kip, thanks for pointing out yet another way we are being lied to by agenda driven big media. I’m sure this sort of BS isn’t just limited to Climate Change/Global Warming.

  18. The Times of London are also on the bandwagon. Their Diplomatic Correspondent wrote a review of the report which included ‘Climate change was the top concern in 13 countries, mostly in Latin America and Africa, where conflict is being fuelled by a fight for diminishing resources as a result of global warming.’
    I and others rapidly pointed out that the report says nothing about conflicts being fuelled by fights for diminishing resources as a result of global warming.

  19. “An oldie, but a goodie”…

    October 13, 2015
    The Chapman University Survey of American Fears, Wave 2 (2015) provides an unprecedented look into the fears of average Americans. In April of 2015, a random sample of 1,541 adults from across the United States were asked their level of fear about eighty-eight different fears across a huge variety of topics ranging from crime, the government, disasters, personal anxieties, technology and many others.×572.jpg
    Too fracking funny…

    • With the exception of one of these, all are plausible threats to some groups of people.
      If global warming deserves to be on such a list, it is because it (or whatever people imagine it to be) apparently evokes “Personal Anxieties”, like “Public Speaking”, or “Heights”. Unlike any of the other threats on the list, not a single person can be said to have perished from Human-caused Global Warming or any of its effects.
      The thing that continues to confound the issue is that Global Warming is not properly defined as anything other than the natural warming of the globe, causes for which are generally known; but as an “Environmental” problem caused by man, it simply does not exist.
      Any one of the following “Fears” deserves a place on the list more than “Global Warming” inasmuch as each has actually taken lives:
      Slipping on banana peels
      Standing suddenly
      Rip tides
      Amusement park rides
      Perfumed people in enclosed spaces
      Shoveling snow
      Auditioning for “America’s Got Talent”
      Recent statistics show that 1 out of every 4 car accidents in the United States is caused by texting and driving. Eleven teens died every day while texting and driving. Not on the list?
      Given some funding and a little “scientific study”, adding a sprinkling of dramatic ink in the media to keep the pulses pounding, and… Presto, we have the next insidious ALARM with its coterie of terrorized followers.

  20. I have zero doubt that the reason they list “Climate Change” in those countries is because they perceive that there is a way to get monies from rich countries to subsidize them. They don’t fear climate change. I guarantee you that they see no more evidence of climate change than anyone in America sees. They just think there is a gold pot if they say Climate Change.

  21. Epilogue:
    I’ll admit, not much of a piece — but I could not resist. I really am offended by the utter lack of journalistic professionalism and ethics, especially from the NY Times’ environmental desk/climate desk. They write absolutely nothing but advocacy pieces, over and over — never a bit of straight science writing. The entire output should appear in the Opinion Section.
    Thanks for reading here and contributing to the comments. I would encourage readers to write to their newspapers with corrections and complaints regarding these kinds of offenses, but most papers have established policies banning opinions contrary to the Climate Consensus. For what its worth, the front page of the NY Times is actually worse than the environment and climate reporting, ever since last November — they have simply abandoned Journalism altogether for partisanship — gone back to yellow journalism full bore.

  22. Research into Survey Design has progressed from validity and reliability to what amounts to ballot stuffing. This is research gone bad. There is now information on how to design surveys that feed into a person’s desire to have his/her voice heard. Which basically means that you can develop a survey that literally prompts a person to choose exactly what you want them to choose. And since many survey’s are now done by survey-providing businesses, ie bought, survey businesses certainly want to hand back a result that says exactly what the customer wants it to say.
    To wit, the following excerpt speaks to this very thing:
    “To increase response rates, a survey needs to
    take advantage of why a person would respond to a
    survey – their motivation. Dillman asserts that
    people’s motivation to respond to surveys is vested
    in the Social Exchange Theory, that by responding
    to the survey, respondents will be compensated in
    return in a way that meets some of their needs
    (Dillman 2000). Perhaps the survey provides
    respondents with an opportunity to voice their
    concerns and incept change, or the survey is a
    means of validating their participation or association
    with a group or endeavor (Ekeh, 1974).”
    Have you completed a survey? Remember to remove the ring inserted in your nose after you have completed the survey. Unless of course you like being led around.

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