This is an updated version of a post from way back before the 2010 election, which I felt needed another airing. Thankfully comments along these lines don’t turn up very often in the comments here, but I see them with depressing frequency on Twitter when poll results are released…

1) The polls are ALL wrong, the real position is obviously X

Er… based on what? The reality is that opinion polling is pretty much the only way of measuring public opinion. We have some straws in the wind from mid-term elections, but they tend to be low turnout protest votes, don’t tend to predict general election results and are anyway quite a long time ago now. Equally a few people point to local government by-elections, but when compared to general election results these normally grossly overestimate Liberal Democrat support. If you think the polls are wrong just because they “feel” wrong to you, it probably says more about what you would like the result to be than anything about the polls.

2) I speak to lots of people and none of them will vote for X!

Actually, so do pollsters, and unless you regularly travel around the whole country and talk to an exceptionally representative demographic spread of people, they do it better than you do. We all have a tendency to be friends with people with similar beliefs and backgrounds, so it is no surprise that many people will have a social circle with largely homogenous political views. Even if you talk to a lot of strangers about politics, you yourself are probably exerting an interviewer effect in the way you ask.

3) How come I’ve never been invited to take part?

There are about 40 million adults in the UK. Each opinion poll involves about 1,000 people. If you are talking about political voting intention polls, then probably under 100 are conducted by phone each year. You can do the sums – if there are 40,000,000 adults in the UK and 100,000 are interviewed for a political opinion poll then on average you will be interviewed once every 400 years. It may be a long wait.

4) They only interview 1000 people, you’d need to interview millions of people to make it accurate!

George Gallup used to use a marvellous analogy when people raised this point: you don’t need to eat a whole bowl of soup to tell if it is too salty, providing it is sufficently stirred a single spoonful will suffice. The same applies to polls, providing an opinion poll accurately reflects the whole electorate (e.g, it has the right balance of male and female, the right age distribution, the right income distribution, people from the different regions of Britain in the correct proportions and so on) it will also accurately reflect their opinion.

In the 1930s in the USA the Literary Digest used to do mail-in polls that really did survey millions of people, literally millions. In 1936 they sent surveys to a quarter of the entire electorate and received 2 million replies. They confidently predicted that Alf Landon would win the imminent US Presidential election with 57% of the popular vote and 370 electoral votes. George Gallup meanwhile used quota sampling to interview just a few thousand people and predicted that Landon would lose miserably to Roosevelt. In reality, Roosevelt beat Landon in a landslide, winning 61% of the vote and 523 electoral votes. Gallup was right, the Digest was wrong.

As long as it is sufficent to dampen down sample error, it isn’t the number of people that were interviewed that matters, it is how representative of the population they are. The Literary Digest interviewed millions, but they were mainly affluent people so their poll wasn’t representative. Gallup interviewed only a few thousand, but his small poll was representative, so he got it right.

5) Polls give the answer the people paying for it want

The answers that most clients are interested in are the truth – polls are very expensive, if you just wanted someone to tell you what you wanted to hear there are far cheaper sources of sycophancy. The overwhelming majority of polling is private commercial polling, not stuff for newspapers, and here clients want the truth, warts and all. Polling companies do political polling for the publicity, there is comparatively little money in it. They want to show off their accuracy to impress big money clients, so it would be downright foolish for them to sacrifice their chances with the clients from whom they make the real money to satisfy the whims of clients who don’t really pay much (not to mention that most pollsters value their own professional integrity too much!).

6) Pollsters only ask the people who they know will give them the answer they want

Responses to polls on newspaper websites and forums sometimes contain bizarre statements to the effect that all the interviews must have been done in London, the Guardian’s newsroom, Conservative Central Office etc. They aren’t, polls are sampled so they have the correct proportion of people from each region of Britain. You don’t have to trust the pollsters on this – the full tables of the polls will normally have breakdowns by demographics including region, so you can see just how many people in Scotland, Wales, the South West, etc answered the poll. You can also see from the tables that the polls contain the right proportions of young people, old people and so on.

7) There is a 3% margin of error, so if the two parties are within 3% of each other they are statistically in a dead heat

No. If a poll shows one party on 46% and one party on 45% then it is impossible to be 95% confident (the confidence interval that the 3% margin of error is based upon) that the first party isn’t actually on 43%, but it is more likely than not that the party on 46% is ahead. The 3% margin of error doesn’t mean that any percentage with that plus or minus 3 point range is equally likely, 50% of the time the “real” figure will be within 1 point of the given figure.

8 ) Polls always get it wrong

In 1992 the pollsters did get it wrong, and most of them didn’t cover themselves in glory in 1997. However, lessons have been learnt and the companies themselves have changed. Most of the companies polling today did not even exist in 1992, and the methods they use are almost unrecognisable – in 1992 everyone used face-to-face polling and there was no political weighting or reallocation of don’t knows. Today polling is either done on the phone or using internet panels, and there are various different methods of political weighting, likelihood to vote filtering and re-allocation of don’t knows. In 2001 most of the pollsters performed well, in 2005 they were all within a couple of points of the actual result, in 2010 the pollsters overestimated Lib Dem support, but were very accurate on the gap between Conservative and Labour.

9) Polls never ask about don’t knows or won’t votes

Actually they always do. The newspapers publishing them may not report the figures, but they will always be available on the pollsters’ own website. Many companies (such as ICM and Populus) not only include don’t knows in their tables, but estimate how they would actually vote if there was an election tomorrow and include a proportion of them in their topline figures.


145 Responses to “REPOST: Too frequently asked Questions”

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  1. Amber and Lefty,

    Two very good posts on different and difficult subjects, both of which I agree with entirely……

  2. AMBER STAR………I rather enjoy your pontificating rants, and, by the way, thanks for your enlightening piece on the previous thread. :-)

  3. Amber – was gonna do a longer post but don’t want to elicit a reaction; suffice to say I agree with you.

  4. @Alan

    You said “…Well arguing about the origin of the universe is pointless as 1) noone knows. 2) It doesn’t really matter…”

    Only as long as cosmogony remains theoretical. But should cosmogony become an applied science, something you can do in the lab…MWWW-HAH-HAH! I AM INVINCIBLE! :-)

    You said “…If the AoC accepts evolution then it’s a small step to accepting the possibility of intelligent life on other worlds. I can’t help but think of the poor missionaries sent to convert the Littlegreenmanists to Christianity. Telling them that god isn’t green with almond eyes and didn’t make them in his own image will probably be a hard sell…”

    I think the position of both Anglicanism and Catholicism is that extraterrestrial life per se poses no doctrinal problems. Extraterrestrial intelligent life does pose a bit of a problem: do they have souls, and have they had a Christ? Both those questions are non-trivial and the second is difficult, since it circumscribes the scope of Christ’s mission: did He die for all humans, or all life, or all intelligent life, or all terrestrial life?…and so on. I think others may be better qualified to answer than I.

    But of course, it’s been considered before… :-)

    Regards, Martyn

  5. @leftylampton – “… prepared to listen to rational argument and change its mind.”

    The intellectual tradition of the Anglican Church (see Richard Hooker 1554-1600) was a kind of ‘third way’ between Roman Catholicism and ‘radical’ Protestantism – specifically interposing (and emphasising the authority of) Reason into the debate between ‘Church’ and ‘Scripture’.

    The joke about not really having to believe in anything specific probably also comes from his latitudinarian approach – (minor) doctrinal issues did not damn or save the soul, and were “things indifferent” to God.

  6. ALAN

    @”Well arguing about the origin of the universe is pointless as 1) noone knows. 2) It doesn’t really matter.”

    1) I agree

    2) I could hardly disagree more with you-it is one of the very few things that really does matter.

  7. BILLY BOB.
    ‘Third Way’ .

    I have seen that before I think.

    Faith and Reason inform each other, as does Experience form both, and is formed by both. Credo

  8. Interesting that all this discussion of religion comes on a thread called “Too frequently asked Questions”!

  9. I have an agnostic, dyslexic, insomniac friend, he lies awake all night wondering if there is a dog. :-)

  10. @Amber

    Very well put, as usual. :-)

    I was a teenager at the time, but can remember the passage of the Abortion Law Reform Act, sponsored by David Lean, and it was the subject of my thesis when I did my degree.

    I can remember the relief when the bill finally became law and women would no longer be prey to the horrors of back-street abortions. That issue, and reading “The Female Eunuch” by Germaine Greer made me a feminist.

    I have always believed fervently in a woman’s right to choose. But having said that, should abortion be allowed because of the sex of the foetus? I struggle with that. And of course, in some cases, the prediction is wrong.
    What do you think? I would be interested in your views.

  11. AMBER

    @”The majority appear to view pregnancy as ‘retribution’ for promiscuity; if a woman dodges her punishment by having a termination then another way to ‘punish’ her must be found.
    They appear to have zero regard for the health & future prospects of the children which they aver to care so passionately about. In short, their hypocrisy & viciousness fills me with rage.”

    Whether you are able , with any credibility, to characterise the majority ( UK?-US?-Saudi-Arabia ?-The World? ) on this particular issue is , I think debatable.

    But even if you were able to do so, your description of them strikes me as particularly subjective & offensive .

    And of course in making such a sweeping & gratuitously offensive claim, you offend many people who are not seeking retribution for promiscuity, are not motivated by any religious beliefs, care very much about the welfare of young children-and have deep reservations about abortion as contraceptive ….people like me.

    Finally let me say that so far as ” viciousness” goes, the worst of it in debates on this subject in this country is to be found in the mouths of those spokeswomen for the “rights” of a woman to do “what she wishes with her own body” ,who never ever mention the “rights” of the unborn little girl or boy that they destroy in exercising their “rights”

  12. “I am passionate about children’s rights to be wanted & to have the best possible prospects of a decent life.”

    At least the first half of that statement strikes me as a very backhanded “right” and pretty transparently instrumental to political imperatives other than the interests of the child. It’s also quite objectifying: the child’s fundamental right is to fulfil the needs of others. Whilst it’s certainly a good thing if children have loving, stable and well prepared homes, the fundamental right isn’t “wantedness” its the ability to find your place in the world and the opportunity to find actualisation on your own terms, which fundamentally rests on being here.

    There’s an increasing fetishisation of the ideal that comes from living in a relatively privileged society. It’s easy to forget the kind of privations, both emotional and material, that people can survive, not without scars, but maintain a life that means something to them.

    I would also question the privatisation of the capacity to impute value to the child to its natural parents. The second part of your statement, I’d agree with entirely. Surely communities and in particular schools need to also step up, and early years education, in particular, has a huge role to play in providing validating influences on a child when they come from an emotionally dysfunctional home, and if the parent is grossly unfit obviously they should be found a home elsewhere and quickly.

  13. LEFTY @ 8.08pm

    Good post-agree entirely.

  14. Well said Amber.

    Colin, would you really want to be born to a mother who didn’t want you? Why would you wish a life of torment and/or abandonment on a child? Isn’t being wanted and cared for more important than mere existence? Who is in the best position to judge on that issue? You or the mother?

    The absolute rights of the unborn are usually espoused by the same right wing religious zealots who argue for the death penalty. The same type of people who agree with stoning rape victims to death.

    So life is sacred (except whenever they say it isn’t). Brilliant how that works. They even worship a God who was given the death penalty by the Romans. That is how weird they are.

    I will get moderated if I say what I think about Colin but I would call on Anthony to intervene generally to restore order in this discussion because Colin’s last comment is just infuriating and appallng.

  15. The current theme on this thread is being discussed at a level way above my pay grade, however, as a happy grandad in a conventional family unit, ( conventional in my world that is ) I am at a loss to identify the key to the abortion problem, I thought it was common knowledge that contraceptives prevent pregnancy, a woman’s right to choose whether to kill a foetus seems to override any sense of responsibility for her actions, getting pregnant and then aborting seems to be a preventable course of action to any sensible human being………..or am I missing something obvious ?

  16. @Colin, @Amber

    Both of you have sincerely-held beliefs concerning abortion and whether personhood begins at conception or birth. Neither of you will convince the other. All that will happen here is that you will restate your positions with rising passion but no effect.
    So although I appreciate the irony that it’s me saying this, you would both be best advised to drop this subject.

    Regards, Martyn

  17. IAN

    @”would you really want to be born to a mother who didn’t want you? Why would you wish a life of torment and/or abandonment on a child? Isn’t being wanted and cared for more important than mere existence? Who is in the best position to judge on that issue? You or the mother?

    I am quite gobsmacked that anyone could ask that question.

    @”The absolute rights of the unborn are usually espoused by the same right wing religious zealots who argue for the death penalty. The same type of people who agree with stoning rape victims to death.”

    Now you are making the same mistake as Amber. Because religious zealots tend to believe a particular thing, does not mean that all who have that belief are religious zealots………or even religious :-)

  18. Can we discuss Scotland instead? :-(

  19. Reverting to my bright Blue stance, I would politely request that the ladies using abortion as a default setting for contraception, kindly consider the real purpose of the NHS and the taxes that pay for it……….. next time try the all night chemist please. :-)
    Blimey, my CAPTCHA code is SL8T. :-)

  20. OLDNAT

    Yes-just watched the two tv progs on Gerry Rafferty ( BBC4)

    What a tortured talent-what great music.

    I have gone off Billy Connolly these days-but his reminiscences brought a tear.

  21. OLDNAT…………While tapping away on my keyboard, I’m watching a brilliant tribute programme to Gerry Rafferty, one of your better exports. :-)

  22. COLIN……….This is getting a little spooky. :-)

  23. KEN

    It is !

  24. @Colin

    The U.S. Supreme Court explored fetal personhood at some length in its Roe v. Wade decision and concluded: “When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.”

    @Ken – “common knowledge that contraceptives prevent pregnancy… am I missing something obvious?”

    Yes, the “Friends” episode where Rachel patiently explains to Ross about contrception, and he complains “They should say something about that on the packet! [outraged, picks up phone ready to assert his consumer rights… fumbles in his pocket and reads] Oh, they do.”

  25. Well Donovan is now on (not one of our better exports, in my view).

  26. BILLY BOB……..Bloody men ! :-)

  27. @ Colin

    Read SoCaL’s comment, to which I was responding.

    If you consider yourself as being in ‘good company’ with people who wish to pass spiteful legislation which demands that invasive & unnecessary medical procedures are carried out on women who are considering exercising their legal right to terminate a pregnancy, then you are vicious.
    8-)

  28. @ Valerie,

    That a woman would chose (or be pressured into) aborting a child because of gender deeply saddens me. But you reminding us of back street aka private terminations leads me to reluctantly take this view: If a wealthy woman with access to private medical care can choose the size & gender of her family then the opportunity to do the same should not be withheld from women of lesser means.
    8-)

  29. @Colin and others

    I am walking down the pavement when someone’s car has a mechanical failure and mounts the kerb, seriously injuring me. The only way to save my life is for someone with a tissue match to donate part of their liver and a kidney. The driver of the car is a tissue match and no-one else is available.

    Should the law compel the driver of the car to donate part of their liver and a kidney?

    This situation is directly analagous to the one the pro-lifers argue to be the case. It is asserted that an entity, incapable of independent life without drawing on the body of another entity, has the right to those resources irrespective of the wishes of the host.

  30. The Polls are always wrong.

    No, but something was amiss in 2011. Even those of us who rely on eye of newt and toe of frog underestimaed what would happen to an extent that would amount to calling the wrong result in any other election.

  31. @AmberStar, Valerie,

    While believing that termination on the basis of gender is reprehensible, my view is that to prevent it merely perpetuates the cultural forces that lead it to happen. If instead it is allowed,so that girls are seen as undesirable (due to e.g. dowries) and are aborted, then the gender ratio in that community will be distorted so that girls become rare. That will make girls much more intrinsically ‘valuable’ and exert a downward pressure on the size of dowries (or undermine whatever other cultural force is responsible), relieving the pressure to select babies’ gender.

    I’m uncomfortable ascribing ‘value’ to girls or boys (although that is precisely what the dowry system does), but I think it’s a useful way of considering the issue.

  32. @ Hannah

    Read my comment again. I did not specify that a child has the right to be wanted by its mother. A child has the right to be wanted by society. And a child which is wanted by society has a much greater likelihood of being wanted by its mother. It is often (perhaps almost always) economic & social pressures which weigh most heavily on women who are considering terminating a pregnancy.

    Self-actualisation is a fine thing but no child is an island. Self-actualisation is something one thinks about on a full stomach. Therefore, you chiding me for speaking about children from the position of a priviledged society was quite amusing. A child cannot thrive, physically, if it is not wanted by society. And I say again, a child which is genuinely wanted by society will usually also be wanted by its mother.
    8-)

  33. @ Martyn

    “A quick terminology check: do not use the phrase “pass the Bar” in an England context. To English ears it elides together two concepts (“passing the written examinations”, and “attaining the rank of barrister”) which do not mean the same thing. In England and Wales, it[1] goes like this:

    * Step 1: pass exams
    * Step 2: do work experience
    * Step 3: gain approval of qualified “barrister”/”solicitor”
    * Step 4: obtain rank of “barrister”/”solicitor”

    In England and Wales, you never get to step 3 and 4 without step 2, and you never get to step 4 without step 3. Step 1 and step 2 may be concurrent[1] or consecutive[2], but step 1 is always on/before step 2. As I said, Mosk simply couldn’t happen in E&W.”

    A world without Stanley Mosk is not a world that I would want to live in. I mean that. He created so many of the great revolutionary legal doctrines that I couldn’t imagine living without. Even as a young judge, he was the one who issued landmark desegregation orders (before the Supreme Court ruled that racist covenants were unenforceable).

    He was a legal giant and I say the William Brennan of the California Supreme Court. In fact, I once discussed this with the official biographer of Brennan that the biggest mistake that Kennedy and Johnson made was not appointing Mosk to the Supreme Court for the Arthur Goldberg/Abe Fortas seat. Mosk was their age, of their intellectual ability, of their Liberal ideology, and he was Jewish (that seat was termed the Jewish seat). The biographer actually agreed with me. There were a number of cases where Mosk would have provided a 5th vote for Brennan’s coalitions. Oh well.

    Thank you for informing me of the distinct differences between qualifying (btw you and also Roger Mexico seem like barristers to me) and passing the exam and qualifying.

    Passing the exam doesn’t actually mean you’re a practicing lawyer because you have to get through the Good Moral Character Determination and then you have to be officially sworn in. But for all intents and purposes (unless you’re an ex-felon), the exam is the toughest part.

  34. Oh cripes, abortion… :(

    The one issue I have never quite managed to nail down my views on.

    I think where I am at nowadays probably amounts to “I think it’s very wrong, but I don’t think it should be illegal”. However, I have vacillated between pro-life and pro-choice positions for at least 20 years and I will probably do so again.

    I agree with Martyn, though. A rotten subject for debate. Elephant Trap City.

  35. @Neil A

    “A rotten subject for debate”

    When there’s so little happening in the polls that we’re reduced to recycling 2 year old threads, we have to get our kicks somehow :)

  36. @ Lefty Lampton

    “Anyone who sees the scientific method as the greatest tool ever discovered by humankind is engaged in a Manichaen struggle for the future direction of humanity with the sort of fundamentalist, anti-scientific religious approach that has swept across swathes of America.”

    See I don’t think it actually has. I just think that we have a very loud and vocal minority. Richard Nixon once said the louder a political group was, the smaller of a group they usually were. Because even in conservative, blood red parts of the country, you’ll get creationist politicians slipping into office in extremely low turnout elections where no one votes and no one pays attention to their record. But then when these same politicians make a national scene about their beliefs, their blood red voters (even in places like Kansas) will vote them out of office or recall them.

    @ Valerie

    “You hope!”

    Yes, it’s like that song “We got High Hopes.”

    Obamcare is going into effect in stages. Some provisions have already gone into effect. Others are coming by 2018. Now, there is the possibility that the Supremes will hold it unconstitutional. But I don’t think that’s likely to happen. In fact I think it’s unlikely to happen.

    The GOP could repeal it but I think that’s unlikely to happen because even if they gain the Senate this year (which I actually don’t think is all that likely), they won’t get a filibuster proof majority and any repeal will be filibustered. Even if they could pass it through the Senate, Obama would veto it. And by 2017, once it’s fully in place and people are happy with universal health insurance, it’s going to be impossible to repeal.

  37. @ Amber Star

    “I must say, it wouldn’t occur to me to consider what Margaret Thatcher would think on any issue!

    My opinion, which is worth precisely zero to the political debate, is that most anti-abortion campaigners are batsh*t crazy & do their own cause more harm than good.

    The majority appear to view pregnancy as ‘retribution’ for promiscuity; if a woman dodges her punishment by having a termination then another way to ‘punish’ her must be found.

    They appear to have zero regard for the health & future prospects of the children which they aver to care so passionately about. In short, their hypocrisy & viciousness fills me with rage. I had best say no more on this topic because I am passionate about children’s rights to be wanted & to have the best possible prospects of a decent life. I will wear out my welcome, if I don’t restrict my pontificating rants on these topics.”

    Honey child, I am in complete agreement with you (you’re preaching to the choir with me). It drives me into a rage too (for which I also have to calm myself).

    When it comes to McDonnell, he is a slimy dishonest peice of excrement (I forgot the Scots word Old Nat taught me for that…keach?). Here’s a guy who wrote a bill that is essentially government mandated rape of a woman. He sponsored it as a Virginia legislator years ago, supported it in its current form, and promised to sign the bill. Today, he claimed that he no longer supported the bill because he didn’t actually know what was in the bill and was simply uninformed. But we know that’s an outright lie because of his own statements both in the legislative record AND his comments to news media on tape. What a slime bucket!

    You know I think the only thing worse than an extremist right wing Christian fundamentalist bigot is an extremist right wing Christian fundamentalist bigot liar.

    Now, if you would like to see the kind of politicians I live with….check out this a**hole:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vbLsy9eKBlI

    You know, I admire his wife for her efforts. But I do have to wonder what she saw in him in the first place.

  38. AMBERSTAR
    ‘If a wealthy woman with access to private medical care can choose the size & gender of her family then the opportunity to do the same should not be withheld from women of lesser means.’

    It may be possible to select the gender of children without the need of abortion in the future, and therefore this could become legal. However, I suspect that most people feel it is better for the NHS to fund heart or cancer treatment or treatment of many other serious illnesses, rather than to help couples have the family of the size and gender they want. As treatment of these illnesses, as well as care for the elderly is seriously underfunded the NHS cannot provide for everything people would like. I could be wrong as I have not seen any polls on how NHS money should be spent.

    If as I suspect I am right then it would be a matter not so much of the NHS financing packaged families according to the current whim, but rather preventing those who can afford it from being treated privately. However, if this is prevented then people will travel abroad for treatment.

  39. @Amberstar,

    “If a wealthy woman with access to private medical care can choose the size & gender of her family then the opportunity to do the same should not be withheld from women of lesser means.”

    I’m not sure that the idea that because rich people have the resources to do morally unacceptable things, therefore poorer people should be enabled to is a positive interpretation of formal equality.

    Regarding your response to my post: self-actualisation is probably the wrong word, the only reason I used it is that I can’t figure out the right one to describe the idea I’m trying to communicate. I don’t mean self-actualisation in the modern sense of “fulfilment” or whatever, I mean the idea of ownership of your own life even if its objectively constrained or unpleasant in many ways- and I’m not trying to be flippant or glib about the fact that people often suffer or don’t have their basic needs met and I absolutely believe that we should work to remedy that (I think we agree on that point), but huge numbers of people survive hardship that we would find inconceivable and what we consider basic necessities would have been out of reach or unimaginable to the vast majority of people who have ever lived.

    Therefore, we should be very cautious about declaring people’s lives unacceptable at their outset, which is the implication, intended or otherwise, of creating other “rights” to which the right to life is conditional, such as the “right to be wanted” (and I really don’t understand how this can be interpreted to be collective in this context).

    “And I say again, a child which is genuinely wanted by society will usually also be wanted by its mother.”

    I think that’s simplistic.

  40. once it’s fully in place and people are happy with universal health insurance, it’s going to be impossible to repeal.
    ———————————————————-
    Amen to that. I’ve had pretty serious health problems over the last 5 years, Coping with that has been bad enough. To have to worry about paying for surgery and treatment must be intolerable. My heart goes out to people in that position

  41. @Robin

    “While believing that termination on the basis of gender is reprehensible, my view is that to prevent it merely perpetuates the cultural forces that lead it to happen. If instead it is allowed,so that girls are seen as undesirable (due to e.g. dowries) and are aborted, then the gender ratio in that community will be distorted so that girls become rare. That will make girls much more intrinsically ‘valuable’ and exert a downward pressure on the size of dowries (or undermine whatever other cultural force is responsible), relieving the pressure to select babies’ gender.”

    Oh dear, this argument really rubs me the wrong way. It fundamentally confuses intrinsic and extrinsic value. Conceptualising women as commodities to men and society that can appreciate and depreciate in value depending on the market is the problem not the solution. #Fail.

  42. @ Valerie

    “I have always believed fervently in a woman’s right to choose. But having said that, should abortion be allowed because of the sex of the foetus? I struggle with that. And of course, in some cases, the prediction is wrong.”

    Isn’t it only until extraordinarily late in the pregnancy that one can tell the gender of the child? I have significant doubts that there are women who go through an abortion and all that entails just because they don’t like the gender of a child. I would imagine that if you wanted to know the gender of your baby, you at that point would be thinking of the baby not as a fetus but as a child. And at that point, I would imagine that a mother would be fairly attached and would only abort in an emergency situation (where the birth would threaten her life or her health).

    Now I’ve heard some rumors of this happenning in China where mothers are encouraged to abort girls and have boys instead. I don’t know if that’s actually true but I’ll assume that it is for the sake of argument. To the extent that women are forced to have abortions as a matter of government policy or their husbands and boyfriends forcing them to, that’s not really reproductive freedom for the woman. In fact it flies in the face of what those of us who are pro-choice believe in.

    Now, is it wrong to abort a child simply because of their gender? I think so. Should there be laws prohibiting it? I don’t think so. Unless something like this became a widespread practice and was causing a problem (then my opinion would change).

  43. SoCalLiberal

    There are lots of sources on China’s “one child policy”. This is the first that appeared on Google (that wasn’t Wiki!)

    http://geography.about.com/od/populationgeography/a/onechild.htm

  44. Someone was speaking to me the other day about fishermen… in the context of the men being dispensible, and having perilous occupations (soldiery and the like) reserved to them.

    In times past the only truly indispensible members in some communities were women of child-bearing age, and their survival would be more important than that of any potential unborn child.

  45. @ Valerie

    “Amen to that. I’ve had pretty serious health problems over the last 5 years, Coping with that has been bad enough. To have to worry about paying for surgery and treatment must be intolerable. My heart goes out to people in that position”

    Mine too. You just don’t realize how bad it is until you experience it yourself or you see what it does to people first hand.

    Last fall, I was turned down for health insurance for “pre-existing conditions.” The conditions they turned me down for were not even technically illnesses, they were trivial conditions at best. Now I’m young and I’m healthy (finally, thanks to a smart 2011 for me) and I was able to found a crappy open enrollment plan that barely covers anything (but at least gives me insurance in case of an emergency and covers my prescriptions). But what if I wasn’t and needed coverage? I’d be totally screwed. It’s not right and it’s not fair (and I might add, it hurts the economy).

    Oh and I forgot the best part. The health insurance company I applied to for coverage refused to give me coverage until I went in for a medical test, which was VERY expensive and that I had to pay for out of pocket. Then they used the results to disqualify me.

    I hope your health problems improve. It can be very tough to deal with. But hopefully things will get better.

  46. @ Ken

    I am at a loss to identify the key to the abortion problem, I thought it was common knowledge that contraceptives prevent pregnancy, a woman’s right to choose whether to kill a foetus seems to override any sense of responsibility for her actions, getting pregnant and then aborting seems to be a preventable course of action to any sensible human being………..or am I missing something obvious ?
    —————————————–
    Yes, you are missing something obvious. If we set aside considerations as to when life begins & other emotional points of the debate, then we may consider “the key to the abortion problem” using your terms of reference.

    If a person signs a contract when under the influence of drugs or alcohol, it is seen as non-binding because the person was not in a responsible state of mind when they signed the contract. Yet a woman denied a termination is being expected to enter into a ‘contract’ to be a mother, if her contraception fails or if she has been ‘irresponsible’ under the influence of drink or drugs.

    Furthermore, the responsibility of which you speak, appears to fall only upon one party to the transaction. “I thought it was common knowledge that contraceptives prevent pregnancy,” you say – but then go on to infer that only the woman has to take responsibility for the actions of two people.

    Women did not chose their gender. They did not volunteer for extra responsibilities. Therefore they ought not to be denied a remedy – after all, the law extends a remedy to those who enter into onerous contracts whilst under the influence of drink, drugs or promises which are not subsequently kept.

    And this is all under your own terms of reference so I hope you will consider the points which I have made.
    8-)

  47. I say this at the risk of stirring the pot but what do you think of parents who would abort their child because a test could show that their child would be gay? Of course such a test doesn’t exist but there are some scientists who feverishly spend their time researching this (apparently the origin of sexual orientation is FAR more important than researching cures for cancer or heart disease or AIDS or studying fuel efficiency). Some pro-lifers have attempted to make this a wedge issue though it hasn’t worked.

    My feeling is that the we’ll burn that bridge when we come to it. I don’t need to pontificate on what doesn’t actually exist. It is a scary thought though. Because if such a test became a reality, there could be major efforts made to eradicate the LGBT population by simply aborting all gay children.

  48. @ Henry

    I agree, there is little or no polling on what the NHS should fund.

    But I suspect that older people would want to see increased spending on health & care for the elderly; younger people might have different priorities.

    And, of course, some people would put spending on the NHS in general above other things which governments spend money on.

    I also don’t think we can discuss termination in the context of cost to the NHS. It is generally a very simple & cheap outpatient procedure; its marginal cost within an NHS gynaecology department is probably tiny.
    8-)

  49. Amber

    “But I suspect that older people would want to see increased spending on health & care for the elderly”.

    Not all of us!

    Of course, I want there to be appropriate (and every health care system rations in one way or another) medical support to keep me fit and healthy for as long as possible.

    However, the prolongation of “life” at huge expense, which limits the resources available to keep others healthy seems a silly waste of resources.

    Death comes to us all, and while modern medicine allows that to be delayed, whether that is an appropriate use of resources (or even of any particular benefit to the individual) is a value judgement – as all resource decisions ultimately are.

  50. @ Hannah

    I’m not sure that the idea that because rich people have the resources to do morally unacceptable things, therefore poorer people should be enabled to is a positive interpretation of formal equality.
    —————————————–
    Yes, as I said, I came to my conclusion reluctantly because it’s not a positive interpretation of equality; it’s a negative one.

    I’d much prefer a society in which all children would be wanted, welcomed & cared for. That would meet my moral standards. But that’s not yet the society which we have. So I’ll reluctantly take equal & immoral over unequal & immoral.
    8-)

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