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Pie in the sky: Irish Times skews Shannon poll result

category national | anti-war / imperialism | news report author Friday March 09, 2007 21:07author by XIT Report this post to the editors

Newspaper does not intend to publish correction

Is it an optical illusion? Is it conservative Irish Times staff subconsciously misrepresenting public opinion on the use of Shannon for the Iraq war? It's a conspiracy theorists' dream.... It has to be seen to be believed... And the most bizarre part is that The Irish Times isn't going to do anything about it.

Intentional confusion or just Irish Times incompetence?
Intentional confusion or just Irish Times incompetence?

The picture really speaks for itself here. The Irish Times last Monday (5th March) published the results of a poll conducted on its website, ireland.com, on the subject of whether Ireland should allow US troops land at Shannon en route to Iraq. 67% of people said NO (i.e. a majority for the anti-war stance) and this figure is printed on the pie-chart.

However, the size of the segments representing Yes and No are mixed up, so that -- visually -- the pie chart indicates that a two-thirds majority wants to continue allowing US troops to use Shannon en route to Iraq, when in fact the majority is opposed.

I watched the Irish Times 'Corrections and Clarifications' column each day this week. Surely the newspaper of record would make a point of clearing up this confusion. I say confusion because initially I wasn't sure whether the numbers were correct and the coloured segments incorrect, or vice versa. Friends I asked were similarly unsure. It was only a visit to the ireland.com website that confirmed that the majority was indeed against the use of Shannon in the Iraq war (the majority has dropped one point to 66%, as I think the poll continued to be live after the pie-chart).

No correction appeared, so I assumed they would clear up the confusion next Monday, when the next weekly poll results were published. But just to be sure, today (Friday 9th March), I phoned the Editor's Office to enquire. The nice lady said the newspaper did not intend to publish any correction, as they felt "it was clear what was intended" in the pie chart.

Is it just me or is that a bit shit? A national newspaper conducts an online poll which finds a clear majority against the use of Shannon in the Iraq war -- an issue of national importance; the newspaper then publishes a pie chart showing the majority in favour of allowing Shannon be used in the Iraq war; and they don't intend to correct or clarify the situation.
(My inner cynic is sure that, had the vote gone with the pro-war side and they had inadvertantly implied the opposite, they would have corrected it. )


The pie-chart was published on the newspaper's Opinion page on Monday 6th March, as part of its weekly 'Head2Head' feature, in which two people put forward opposing views each Monday. The debate then moves online and the following Monday the results of the online poll are published in the newspaper.

See the original debate between anti-war campaigner Ed Horgan and Frank Groome of the Clinton Institute in Dublin, in the Irish Times of 26th February:

See the online debate here:

Conspiracy theorists should click on 'Archive' and note that the Shannon debate is not listed. This means that if you arrive at the Home page of the Head2Head section, there is no way to find the Shannon debate. Presumably just another oversight by the folks at ireland.com

author by Deirdre Clancy - AWIpublication date Fri Mar 09, 2007 22:01author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Thanks for pointing that out. It's hilarious. I'm sure Freud have something to say about something like this.

In their 1916 anniversary supplement, the Irish Times had a photo of Hollywood set of a film being made depicting 1916, complete with relaxed looking onlookers enjoying the novelty of the spectacle, etc. The caption under the photo indicated that it was an actual photo of 1916. Someone had a letter published in the letters page pointing out that it was a film set a few days later. The po-faced note under the letter just said that the photo was obtained from Getty Images and that the Irish Times had been assured it was an authentic one of the Rising (you didn't have to look too closely to see that it wasn't). There was no attempt to admit that a mistake had been made somewhere along the production line (and a rather bad one, at that). Needless to say, the photo doesn't appear in their commemorative book on the anniversary (and no, I didn't buy it - a reliable source told me).

So it's unsurprising to me that the above mistake doesn't appear in 'Corrections and Clarifications'. I like the corrections and clarifications in the Guardian. It always mentions everything and whoever writes it uses it as an opportunity for some self-effacing humour. It's hard to see that ever happening at the Irish Times. It'd be easier to take a paper's claim to be 'of record' seriously if it had the grace to admit when it had screwed up.

author by Clive Sullish - -publication date Fri Mar 09, 2007 22:08author address author phone Report this post to the editors

4 x 4 drivers and the other respectable citizens who support Mr. Bush's efforts in Iraq take up more space on our island than the anti-war element. Why shouldn't they also be allowed more space on a pie-chart?

Give us a bit of space, man
Give us a bit of space, man

author by Innumeratepublication date Fri Mar 09, 2007 23:34author address author phone Report this post to the editors

One well-known activist interpreted The Irish Times pie chart graphic as representing Bertie's view on how these polls should be interpreted!

author by Anarchy Rules - Cosantoiri Siochanapublication date Sat Mar 10, 2007 03:30author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The Times might have just published the most accurate piece of information that they've ever published.

This pie chart is very representative of the picture in Ireland today. The few have more say than the many and the wishes of the few are currently outweighing the wishes of the many.

It's a pity that the debate went walkabout, it was quite interesting in that it showed how narrow the argument for continuing to support the American Genocide effort is (there were but two options - the economic argument and the America knows best argument). As an activist on the other hand, what worried me, was that the debate only ran to two or three pages. The current debate (Should gay and lesbian couples be allowed to adopt children?) is already at 28 pages. It could be argued that generally speaking, that folks just don't care about what's going on in Shannon. After all, most of the arguments in the current debate are fuelled by a desire to achieve whatever is in the best interests of children (regardless as to the side one takes in this argument). One must remember that the current Genocide is coming close to having annihilated 700,000 innocent human beings, most of them women and children. So rather than blame a general sort of apathy for the lack of participation in the Shannon debate, I think it more realistic and plausible to point out that mainstream media coverage of our facilitation and complicity with regard to US war crimes has been sporadic, minimalist and misleading. This pie chart is both an example of this activity by the mainstream media and as I've said earlier, an accurate reflection of the overall picture with regard to Shannon.

When it comes to atoning for our acts and omissions, it won't only be the authorities who'll have to take responsibility for their actions, so will the mainstream media.

author by DMpublication date Sat Mar 10, 2007 08:48author address author phone Report this post to the editors

You know if your that pissed you should probably write in.

author by rianorr - nonepublication date Sat Mar 10, 2007 11:42author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I remember the exact moment I gave up on the irish times, during the maastrich and neutrality debate,
the head line read. 'Treaty chips away at the traditional concept of Irish neutrality' the paper i realised then
has been trawling the depths of liberal euphamism for far too long.

It doesn,t invalidate neutrality, it chips away at neutrality, it doesnt, chip away at neutrality it chips away at the concept of
neutrality, it doesnt chip away at the the concept of neutrality, it chips away at the traditional concept of neutrality.
'The paper of smug euphamism' chipped away with at my concept of reality.

author by redjadepublication date Sat Mar 10, 2007 13:22author address author phone Report this post to the editors

so, 2/3rds of Irish Society opposes US Military use of Shannon - yet the politics of Ireland supports it. And most of Irish political parties either don't wish to discuss thier support or prefer not to emphisize their opposition, even.

Yet, I doubt that there is a controversial issue in Irish Society that is agreed to by as much as 2/3rds!

It is an electoral opportunity.

But look at what is happening in the USA these days. Voices for Creative Nonviolence activists (remember Kathy Kelly at the Ploughshares trials? This is her organisation - http://vcnv.org ) are invading Democratic Party politicians to demand more backbone in opposing Bush's war. This tactic, in concert with Dems that have more backbone on the issue, seems to be having an effect and keeps pushing the Dem Senate and House to further oppose the Iraq War and to further investigate Bush's crimes and corruptions.

Perhaps a similar strategy and tactics are needed for Ireland?
{see: Unmanagables v. McDowell

—————————— ——————————

Protesters Aim To Take Over Lawmakers’ Offices, Fight War Funding
March 9, 2007 by the Associated Press

Some opponents of the Iraq war are taking their protests straight to Congress — staging “occupations” in lawmakers’ offices on Capitol Hill and in their home communities.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel’s [Dem] office in Chicago was targeted on Thursday.

A day earlier protesters were headed off before getting into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office in San Francisco.

In Washington, peace activists dressed in pink showed up recently at the Senate offices of presidential hopefuls John McCain and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The protesters haven’t abandoned the larger, more familiar gatherings at college campuses, major cities and monuments in Washington. But in recent weeks, they have been turning up at congressional offices, vowing to stay until they get pledges that lawmakers will vote against more war funding — or until they are forcibly removed.

more at

Direct Action & Electoral Politics <em>can</em> mix
Direct Action & Electoral Politics can mix

author by soundmigrationpublication date Sat Mar 10, 2007 16:49author address author phone Report this post to the editors

If lots and lots of people mailed a letter of complaint to the irish Times contact details below




it would be even worse if some irresponsible individuals subscribed these email addresses to not so useful mailing lists

ive heard that such inconsiderate acts have clogged up manys a corporates inbox.

Tsk. Tsk.!!!

author by Johnpublication date Sat Mar 10, 2007 20:07author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Online polls such as this one (Ireland.com) are no value. Normal polls carried out by reputable polling companies for newspapers use a representative sample of the population. As a result, they are generally fairly accurate. For example, the normal newspaper polls before the 2002 general election predicted the result to 1% or 2% accuarcy. Online polls such as this one are a different matter. Anyone can vote in them and can vote as many times as they like. Activists and extremists of one kind or another are far more likely to vote in such polls than the silent majority. For example, the same Irish Times online poll (Ireland.com) gave the following figures for voting intentions prior to the 2002 general election (the poll is still there in the archive section of Ireland.com): Fianna Fail: 19% Sinn Fein 20%. Hardly the most accurate prediction ever. As for the pie chart which the Irish Times has used to display the results of this poll, clearly its wrong but most readers of the Irish Times wouldn't know the difference between a pie chart and an apple pie. They will merely look at the figures given, which are correctly given, and ignore the difference in size of the segments in the circle in which the figures are displayed as they won't have an inkling of what the size of the segments indicates.

author by J.K.publication date Sun Mar 11, 2007 00:23author address author phone Report this post to the editors

"clearly its wrong but most readers of the Irish Times wouldn't know the difference between a pie chart and an apple pie. They will merely look at the figures given, which are correctly given, and ignore the difference in size of the segments in the circle in which the figures are displayed as they won't have an inkling of what the size of the segments indicates."

This is actually entirely opposite to the truth. As somebody who works as a computer scientist and designs experiments in HCI (human-computer interaction), I can tell you that somewhere over 95% of people who view a pie chart like this won't notice the anomaly and every single one of them would look at the chart and tthen tell you that 66% of people voted yes. People assimilate graphical information far, far quicker than they assimilate numerical information. That's why pie charts are used. All graphical representatiions of statistical information are less accurate than numerical representations (the eyes can't distinguish whether a segment of a circle is 18% or 22% of its area, for example, but the problem of deciding which number is larger is trivial). The only reason that graphical representations are used is because the information can be assimilated at a glance with far less cognitive processing required.

There is a vast body of peer-reviewed research published in the fields of HCI and data-visualisation that supports the above position. In fact, it's accepted to such a degree that there probably hasn't been any papers published that put forward the argument since the 1970's. The reason being that it's universally accepted due to the strength of the experimental evidence and the pervasiveness of the user-acceptance.

John's comment above is the equivalent of saying "clearly gravity is a repulsive force". It's written in coherent, plausible sounding language, as if the author knows what he's talking about, but it's contradicted by every single bit of evidence in the universe (of which, in this case, there is an awful lot). People who make such claims are just not being honest.

author by Eoinpublication date Sun Mar 11, 2007 11:30author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Thanks for posting this, including the printed pie-chart from the Irish Times newspaper.

What do you think the Irish Times women who said "it was clear what was intended" means?

author by Johnpublication date Sun Mar 11, 2007 11:33author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Was your experiment conducted among dyslexics? The figures are clearly given in large letters as YES 33% NO 67%. Unless the person looking at them was dyslexic and couldn't read the figures, he/she would have no problem in knowing what they were. Obviously, it would be a different matter if the actual figures hadn't been given or were given only in small print at the bottom of the article. But, they weren't, they were given in LARGE LETTERS on the diagram itself and for 99 per cent of population its the figures given that are important. Here's my own experiment. I can't draw a pie chart in this comment, but can do a primitive bar chart (same principle). Here's the result of the Ireland v England rugby match in bar chart form:

IRELAND 43 *************

ENGLAND 13 *******************************************

Oops, looks like I did an Irish Times and got the 'graphics' the wrong way round.

OK, how many people looking at it think England won as opposed to spotting straight away that I messed up the graphics?

But, if you still think it was a deliberate plot by the Irish Times to mislead the public, rather than a mistake by some teenage operative who hasn't yet learned to use graphics software properly, I suggest sending a petition of protest to some of the well-known right-wing neo-conservative journalists that write in the Irish Times, such as Vincent Browne, Fintan O'Toole, Mary Raftery, Maev-Ann Wren, Deaglan DeBreadun etc etc.

author by Johnpublication date Sun Mar 11, 2007 11:49author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Innocent mistakes do happen with software, you know, whether its in the writing, installation or application of software. For example, its currently displaying my last post as having been entered at 12.33 today. But, its only 11.50 now as I type this. I deduce from this that either there is a bug in the software purchased by indymedia or some indymedia operative has made a mistake. I do not invent some conspiracy theory that indymedia is trying to deceive the public in regard to what time it now is.

author by Deirdre - AWIpublication date Sun Mar 11, 2007 11:53author address author phone Report this post to the editors

"Unless the person looking at them was dyslexic and couldn't read the figures, he/she would have no problem in knowing what they were."

I see what you're getting at, but don't totally agree. Research has shown that images make more of an indelible impression on people's minds than text/numbers. That's why advertising uses more images than text.

I certainly don't think it was a deliberate plot to mislead the public, I think they just messed up. However, the least they can do is admit it. It may seem like a small error, but actually in the context of a publication like that, it's quite a big one. Not as big as the 1916 supplement one (that picture filled huge space), but still significant enough.

author by John's motherpublication date Mon Mar 12, 2007 10:41author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Dearie me son, you got very upset because that man caught you out! You thought you'd made a really clever point then he pointed out that you were wrong. Instead of accepting that you made a mistake you couldn't help writing two posts ignoring everything he said and trying to change the subject. You know people will respect you more if you can admit that you made a mistake son..

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