Just how dense do you think we are, Julia?

Posted in #openinternet by skepdadblog on July 9, 2010
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The flame-haired wonder has backflipped on the filter.  Celebrations, vuvuzelas and unbridled downloading of snuff movies all around.

Oh, wait – or was it just a cynical ploy to try and take a deeply unpopular policy off the table as an election issue?  Nah, couldn’t be.  That would be… well, manipulative and disingenuous.

Of course, if you look up disingenuous in the dictionary, there’s a photo of Stephen Conroy, thumbs up and grinning.

So here’s “backflip day” in a few heavily commented media stories:

I’m sure there are many more, and I’d appreciate links to any crackers in the comments.

My fellow geeks, skeptics, dads and Australians of all denominations: if anything this should be a call to arms.  The Government clearly knows this is a vote loser, and is simply trying to sweep it under the rug.  They will yank it out from under the rug, dust it off and plug it in the minute they are re-elected, all the time claiming an implied mandate from the people who returned them.  They are subverting democracy in the most cynical and clumsy way possible.

Don’t fall for it.

Lies, damned lies and Conroy

Posted in #openinternet by skepdadblog on April 8, 2010
Tags: , , ,

It is a colorless and odorless chemical compound. Its basis is the highly reactive hydroxyl radical, a species shown to mutate DNA, denature proteins, disrupt cell membranes, and chemically alter critical neurotransmitters. The atomic components are found in a number of caustic, explosive and poisonous compounds such as Sulfuric Acid, Nitroglycerine and Ethyl Alcohol.

It is a constituent of many known toxic substances, diseases and disease-causing agents, environmental hazards and can be lethal to humans in quantities as small as a thimbleful.  In gaseous form, it can cause severe burns.

Each year, it is a known causative component in many thousands of deaths and is a major contributor to millions upon millions of dollars in damage to property and the environment.

86% of people surveyed support banning this substance, dihydrogen monoxide.  Do you?

Congratulations, you just banned water.  (With thanks to

And that, my friends, is the problem with polls.

The Punch has run a couple of articles on the blackwall in the past two days; the first from Conroy himself and the latest from the journalist/apologist/polemicist (I can’t decide which) Paul Colgan waggling his finger at the predictably incensed response to Conroy’s missive.

Colgan’s point is that the outrage of the blogosphere is counterproductive and unrepresentative of wider public opinion, as represented by polling.  I won’t argue with the first point, as some of the commentary was definitely out of order; but that’s what you get when you open the floor to the general public.  It’s a little naive to expect anything different.

The second point is argued in such an idiotic fashion as to make me wonder how this chap presumably earns a living as a “serious journalist”.  Polling can be designed to give any answer you’re looking for, the results being useful only in the precise context in which they’re asked.  Furthermore, as the H2O example above demonstrates (and has been experimentally verified) people can easily be influenced with the right choice of language.

Quoting Coglan’s piece:

“What the debate almost entirely failed to reflect was the overwhelming popularity of Conroy’s plan with the general public.  A recent poll put support for mandatory government filtering of child abuse material at 80 per cent.”

The actual poll result was this:

80% of people said they were in favour of “having a mandatory Government Internet filter that would automatically block all access in Australia, to overseas websites containing material that is Refused Classification”. Survey participants were first read a definition of ‘Refused Classification’ as follows:

Images and information about one or more of the following:

–    child sexual abuse
–    bestiality
–    sexual violence
–    gratuitous, exploitative or offensive sexual fetishes; and
–    detailed instructions on or promotion of crime, violence or use of illegal drugs

Where do I start.  Firstly, the above definition is not even close to a comprehensive definition of RC, nor does it go into how things are added to the list or who controls it.  It’s too detailed to repost here, but you can find out from this page at ACMA.  Suffice to say that the points above are the most alarmist of the many areas that RC touches, and thus to most likely to engender revulsion in a respondent.  Furthermore all these, with the possible exception of fetishes, are illegal but RC encompasses much which is totally legal to possess and purchase.

Secondly: even if the respondents were fully aware of what RC encompassed, they were not asked if they supported “Conroy’s plan”.  They were asked if they “were in favour of having a mandatory Government Internet filter that would automatically block all access in Australia, to overseas websites containing … RC … material”.  Even if you accept that the respondents understood the full impact of those words, in the short time they had to absorb them,  Conroy’s plan is much wider reaching than just this.

The question that the respondents really had to deal with, given the cognitive processes involved with processing such complex aural information, would have been closer to this: “Should the Government block websites that have evil illegal stuff on them?” I’m surprised only 80% answered affirmatively.  But that’s not the same thing as supporting “Conroy’s plan” Mr Coglan.

For a journalist with such faith in polls, it’s surprising (or perhaps not, given the post’s blinkered tone) that Coglan didn’t reference the other results in the same poll.

Despite clear support for the filter, far fewer people (50%) were in favour of “a Government appointed body determining whether a website is appropriate for you to visit”.


an overwhelming 91% of people were in favour of “the community being advised which websites have been Refused Classification and the reason why they have been refused classification”.


70% of Australians are concerned that “future Governments could use Internet Filtering technology to restrict free speech or block other forms of website content they don’t approve of”.

and many more.   But we don’t talk about those polls, do we.  Run the same poll again, but put the first question last.  Different result?

Conroy states that he welcomes debate, but his actions say a very different thing.  Educated opposition is either downplayed (in the case of the US Government) or attacked (Google and EFA) in exactly the same histronic manner which Coglan bemoans.

There will be no debate, ignorance is Conroy’s ally in this issue.  When people and organisations learn the details, they oppose it.  The misdirection and half-truths will continue until it becomes an election issue, or until Rudd comes up with a diversion.

I will vote on this issue, and I know many others who will also.