Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Does the "B" in CBC Stand For Bias?


Just about everybody with a cause believes the media is either completely against them, casting their arguments in a negative light, or just not giving them the amount of time and serious consideration they deserve.

In the last couple of weeks alone, I've heard almost all of the FOX News meat puppets refer to the "Left wing bias of the Main Stream Media".

Within the same time frame, Michael Moore in his stirring speech in support of Unionism from the steps of the Wisconsin State Capitol and Bill Maher on his HBO "Real Time" series both pointedly referred to the "Right wing bias of the Main Stream Media".

If you're media, main stream, tributary or quietly babbling blog, some among your audience are continually parsing the vocabulary and tone of what you do and coming to the conclusion that somebody's pulling a fast one -- and they're getting the short end of the deal.

I often feel that way about the CBC.

Usually it's with regard to their drama programming. I mean, I can't be the only one wondering if there's some quietly unspoken reason that "Little Mosque" keeps getting renewed -- can I?

But often I'll feel that way about CBC News programming as well.

Anybody who's been reading this blog for a while, knows I'm actually quite fond of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. I don't agree with everything his party stands for and have issues with some of what he's selling. But overall, he doesn't annoy or flat out piss me off as much as the other guys.

So you can imagine my surprise after taking CBC's much vaunted and constantly hyped "Vote Compass" online test that I'm actually a Liberal supporter leaning heavily toward the NDP.


The 2011 Federal Election "Vote Compass" is an online questionnaire which contends that by taking ten minutes and answering its 30 carefully constructed questions, you'll get an accurate reading on which of our five major political parties is most closely aligned with your world view.

The CBC doesn't say that you should then go out and vote for that party. But at the same time it doesn't say the website is for "amusement purposes only". And they go to a lot of trouble to assure you that this is a completely scientific process developed by expert Political Scientists with no personal agenda whatsoever.


And maybe I'm just really hard to read.

I remember being at a New Years Eve party once where the host had hired a Tarot Card Reader to entertain the guests and forecast their coming year. The poor woman dealt my cards and became physically ill. She dealt them a second time. Then a third, each time growing more upset.

No matter how often she cast my runes, they kept telling her the same thing. I was tragically doomed. In fact, she was tearfully certain I wouldn't live out the night.

To be honest, I almost didn't. When the host found out she was so distraught she'd gone home, he blamed me, demanding I reimburse the $200 he'd paid her.

But back to the "Vote Compass".

No matter how often the CBC have investigated themselves on charges of Liberal bias and come to the conclusion that they're clean as a whistle, you can still find people harboring doubts.

I'm sure a lot of that comes from looking at the world through their own sets of biases. As Canadian playwright Carol Bolt once wisely stated, "A good book is one which confirms your own prejudices."

So I asked three Conservative friends to take the test, choosing a sample group that included an atheist and a recent immigrant since a couple of the Compass questions revolved around your affection for the Christian Right and comfort with new immigrants.

They turned out to be closet Liberals as well.


Trying hard not to fashion myself a tinfoil hat, I contacted an old friend who has spent most of his life studying Political Science and working as an organizer for the NDP. Turned out he also had taken the test.

His result said he was a perfectly aligned with the Green Party. But he saw something darker in the direction of the "Vote Compass" than even I at my conspiratorial best could have imagined.

"Please note the set up. They say you will be "surprised" by the results. That is a set up. Loads of people are looking for party affiliation and affirmation and they have a gimmick that thinks concern for the environment is LEFTIST ONLY! What a truckload of Hooey.

This  is not political science,  it's  pseudo science. When CBC pulls these head games out during an election, it makes my blood boil. CBC should be kicked in the ass for this deeply flawed computer program.

Note, anybody thinking Conservative is directed to be a Liberal or New Democrat (smell a rat here). Anyone voting NDP is told they are Green.  It is trying to peel the NDP vote off to the Green and Conservative votes to the Liberals..."

Later, he copied me an email from another student of Political Science.

"Yeah watch out for that, it's not accurate. The questionnaire has two variables:

1 - Economic position (left or right)

2 - Social (conservative or liberal)

The NDP is placed on the left of the economic axis and on the top of the social axis. If you're socially liberal and economically left, you are considered NDP.

The Greens are placed toward the left side of the economic axis but they are much closer to the centre of the social axis.

I switched my answers to make them more socially conservative and suddenly I became a Green too."

And then there's this guy…

vote compass 2

Just more CBC bashing combined with the party fervor that's always stirred up by an election?

Perhaps not.

As of this evening, another respected Political Scientist has weighed in.

Queen's University professor Kathy Brock says the CBC's "Vote Compass" is flawed and tells people they're Liberal by default. Full story here.

Perhaps somebody other than CBC's own Ombudsman needs to take a look at this whole bias question.

And while they're at it, maybe they could ask a few questions about that awfully early "Little Mosque" renewal too.


For a similar (and well reasoned) viewpoint from the political Left. Visit here.

Meanwhile, NDP Supporters have started a facebook page demanding the CBC remove the Vote Compass. Simply facebook search "bogus vote tool".

And for those who still think OJ didn't do it because there's no video…


DMc said...

Or if you read books like "Why We Decide" and others about decision making, the depressing truths can be twofold, Jim.

first, the one you amply display here: given evidence that goes contrary to belief, that tends to reinforce rather than dispel the belief.

That's human nature. Huge implications for politics. Explains the "left-wing" , "right-wing" bias thing, too.

Part and parcel of the Conservative playbook in Canada and the USA is also finding enemies and people who are stacking the world against the poor Conservative worldview...

...this despite the fact that the Cons have ruled Canada since 2005, and had two huge majorities under Mulroney, and that most of what used to be bete noire issues -- free trade on down, are now mainstreamed. Yet we have the constant carping that everyone's out to get the poor cons (even though this cabal hasn't stopped Harper from basically running roughshod and doing whatever he wants).

In the USA we have the spectre that every time there's a Democratic President, the right reacts in spasms of craziness questioning the legitimacy of that President. This goes back to FDR, at least. The best example of a President with a real question of legitmacy recently, GW Bush, was accepted grudgingly by Democratic voters after the Supremes kicked the door open for him. But no such reciprocity exists for the right.

In fact, what is only hinted at in the USA is a matter of settled history here -- The Conservatives are a more rightward party because of the reverse takeover of the old PC's by the Reform/Alliance types Harper represents. So they've managed to tilt the whole compass right.

...but it's the CBC that's culprit number one against the Cons. Not the fact that 60 percent of the countryhas been against them.

The other thing that's amazing about politics is the consistent ability to get people to vote against their own self-interest. That's political genius. Maybe, just maybe, reducing the axises against which you judge your decision is supposed to offer a corrective or a wakeup to people who think parties believe and work for one thing when they really work for another. In which case, it's an admirable and interesting journalistic approach.

But none of that is going to matter because you farm your bias, going so far as to not pick up on the simple fact that if there was a conspiracy to tank this thing, it would be ridiculous to try to bleed NDP voters to the Libs AND THEN BLEED NDP VOTES to the Greens. There is no scenario under which that fits into some mustache twirling master plan.

But, you know, Jim, enjoy the tinfoil. You always do.

Rusty James said...

Both of your points bode well for my new series coming in 2012:

'Little Gas on the Corner of Train 48'

Special Guests include the whole cast of Sue Thompson F.B.Eye!!!

jimhenshaw said...

Actually, DMc, if you read what was written correctly -- the comment from the NDP organizer (who has spent much of his career studying political strategizing) was that the compass questions (either by design or flawed logic)peel Conservatives to the Liberals and NDP supporters to Green.

In other words, Liberal gains from the Conservatives and reducuction of the NDP vote. Both of which assist Liberal candidates in a first past the post system.

As to tinfoil theories -- "the simple fact is there's a conspiracy to tank this thing" -- Really? A conspiracy made up of all the other Left and Right parties led by Political Science professors?

Dude, that's Charlie Sheen territory.

jimhenshaw said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
M Foster said...

I think the whole point of the compass, and they say so very clearly, is to get people thinking and engaged in the election.

Obviously there is no way for the compass to be accurate but if hundreds of thousands of people log on and spend a few minutes thinking about the issues and parties then argue about it, that is a plus for democracy.

The compass didn't get me right either, but I took it like I do any internet survey, with a grain of salt.

DMc said...

Before I answer, Jim, can I borrow a bit of that..just on the side of your head..yeah...that. Thanks. I have to wrap this sandwich or it's gonna go bad.

Now. Your point is analogous to saying that all bathtubs should be designed taking into account the people who are going to get into them to deliberately try and slip and fall.

That's ridiculous. Nobody (or nobody sane) uses bathtubs that way.

Just as nobody interested enough in taking something called a "Vote Compass" is going to answer NO OPINION on EVERY SINGLE QUESTION.

The grid plots issues on a 4 quadrant matrix based on fiscal & social conservatism, using answers to hot button issues.

It places you on the spectrum. Do you deny that, compared to the others, the Liberals are more centrist? Than the two left wing parties or the admittedly more Conservative party? (They're not even "Progressive!" anymore, remember.)

So if you express no opinion, you would be dead centre.

Which means -- you're closest to the Liberals.


the ONLY WAY that's relevant IN ANY WAY is if you go in looking to tank the test. If your intention is to slip in the bathtub.

Like two cops sitting in a car looking for trouble, of course you found some, Jim. How could you not?

Then again, I -- who live in an NDP riding but will probably vote Liberal -- came up as Green. So, you know, so much for that theory.

Now take your shinebox and buff up that foil. Your head needs to be shinier! SHINIER!

Joel Scott said...

If this slight of hand survey was accurate and not biased, anyone voting *Don't know* would come up as NO Party Affiliation.

But you'll notice in the architect's rush to funnel votes to the Liberals, this category was deliberately omitted.

Are we as Canadians to believe everybody is aligned politically?

CBC is leaving themselves wide open to assertions that they are pro Liberal as this "Scurvey" proves definitively that they are politically meddling in the tradition of the slimiest old time politics -- rigged polls.

Mark said...


Being from Saskatchewan we know you have a 'western' bias...

Seriously though (I was Alberta born) and slightly off topic, have you noticed when a province is 'have not' it leans to the NDP and when it finds wealth it suddenly swings to the right? In the case of Newfoundland, they still wanted their cake and eat it too.

Politics is an ugly beast.

Research said...

A more serious issue about the CBC’s Voter Compass is that it appears that a person can complete the questionnaire innumerable times. So someone with time on their hands, like most political junkies, could cast their vote hundreds or thousands of times and hope the CBC is ignorant enough to release the results of this ‘poll’.

Coincidentally, as CBC celebrates its 75th anniversary, it was 75 years ago that the Literary Digest used its self-selected sample of over 2 million readers to incorrectly call the 1936 presidential election. The Digest went out of business shortly thereafter.

P.S. Jim, please send me an email.

Trevor B. Cunningham said...

This Vote Compass is about as goofy as playing Farmville. What bothers me isn't the result, it's polls and garbage like this that is replacing actual journalism.

Kay said...

I don't think this is deliberate bias, rather a prime example of the sloppy work CBC News increasingly produces. It's a prime example of "garbage in - garbage out". A poorly-designed questionnaire which is producing idiotic results. Of course, CBC is now busily defending it - saying it's designed to get people talking. An admirable goal, but the talk isn't in the vein CBC had hoped.
I think this is an interesting idea, but rolled out far too quickly - a little more nuance would be a great improvement.
Jim: Based on reading your blog for the last several years, I'm not at all surprised that you came out as Liberal :-)
Trevor: Good point, this is a toy, which is generating far more air time & ink than it deserves.

Anonymous said...

First, I've been taking such tests for the better part of 15 years, from way back before the Web existed. Some are good, some are bad. All are supposed to be entertaining. That the CBC tries to use this as any sort of education is beyond ridiculous, and beyond political.

Second, one of the reasons I don't believe the climate change hypes is that my experience with computer models is, and this is complicated so pay attention: garbage in, garbage out.

To test such models, you basically "throw noise at it", i.e., input RANDOM data to see if you get more than a chance response.

If you have a program that simulates tossing a coin one million times, and get 999,999 heads and one've failed.

Unless you WANT to show that head is better than tail, like the CBC here...