Resisting the "choice architects".

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dungbeetlevsearth.jpgA wee while ago, a pollster knocked on my door and asked if I would like to take part in a study of attitudes to climate change, commissioned by the Scottish Government. Obviously I did, not least because I want to know what Ministers are interested in. I explained what I do for a living, but they don't screen anyone out by employment or similar.

Disappointingly, the focus of the questions was almost entirely on what we, the public, should do. How important is it for me, as a consumer, to buy some kind of notionally happy-pig pork? Tough question for a vegetarian, that. How important is it for me to turn the taps off while I brush my teeth? We're on the record on that one.

There was next to nothing about what Government should do. Do you back binding annual targets for greenhouse gas emissions? No question. If you support targets, what should they be? 3%, as per the SNP's weak manifesto pledge? 4.5%, as per the Green manifesto? Somewhere in between? No question. Do you think the Scottish Government should spend more than £5bn on their roads programme, or put the money into public transport instead? Unsurprisingly, no question.

You can tell a lot by the questions asked. And the SNP's aim with this kind of research is clear - to make the public feel bad for not doing more to tackle climate change, and to shirk any responsibility themselves. Constructing a list of questions like that is the clearest demonstration that the choice architects have been at work.

As a footnote, there was a curious error in the poll. I got given a booklet with numbered answers, each associated with a particular question. For instance, there was a list of sources for information about climate change, and the question was "who do you trust?". Clue: independent scientists, not either Government.

One of the other questions listed opinions from "Climate change is an immediate and serious problem that we should tackle now" through to "I do not believe climate change is happening". I looked at the list, and just said "the first one", or whichever place Green option was listed at. 

The interviewer looked shocked, given that I'd outed myself as a Green, and it turned out the prompts were in reverse order to the options on his laptop. It was just easy to spot the error because he knew what I'd say, and he could tell I wasn't a climate change denier. Who knows how many others have had their views misrecorded on this question?

So if when the poll comes out from the Scottish Government, feel free to ignore the results from that answer. And do please resist the implicit idea that climate change isn't something the SNP administration should help tackle.


I've never trusted any poll that asks people for an opinion or answer rather than researching the figures since 2nd year of high school.

We trooped into class one day to be confronted by pollsters eager for us to fill in a questionnaire. Of course we had great fun with it, and found it hysterical a few months later when the Daily Record screamed about the shock findings that showed Scots youngsters as sex-crazed drug and alcohol addicts!

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This page was published on September 1, 2008 11:59 AM.

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