Britons remain tolerant despite terror outrages

Okay, so I know the Metro isn’t exactly the bastion of great journalism or anything, but they ran a story today based on a Harris Interactive study, that bugged me: METRO: Britons remain tolerant despite terror outrages (the linked story lacks the infographics that accompanied the printed article).

Harris Interactive interviewed 1,296 people, who were asked to rank their strength of faith from 0-10, with zero being agnostic. I’m curious why the Metro used this label. Surely atheist is the correct definition for someone with 'zero faith'? To me, agnosticism implies that some doubt – trace amounts of faith – may remain.

The main issue the data raised for me was completely ignored by the article. Those surveyed were asked which religion was 'best' and which was 'worst'. Sensibly, 65% answered that no one religion was better or worse. Christianity stormed ahead in popular opinion however, with 26% voting it the 'best'. The 'worst', according to 24%, was Islam.

That result, in my view, contradicts the Metro's conclusion that we remain tolerant. Also, there is a very strong implication that it's the Christians that have the biggest problem with Islam. Sadly, the Harris Interactive data hasn’t been published on their site to elaborate on the Metro's assertions.

I left a (polite and reasonable) comment on the Metro post, but it wasn’t published.

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5 thoughts on “Britons remain tolerant despite terror outrages

  1. Incorrect conclusion, please see me after class. :P Ok, that’s just me being an asshat. More specifically, though, the experimental design itself is limited and gives you data that cannot confirm or reject the hypothesis.Let the null hypothesis be that the above distribution is independent of societal attitudes towards Muslims following the 7/7 incidents (that is, the distribution is a function of, mostly, demographics). Let the alternative hypothesis be that the distribution indicates an intolerance towards etc. etc. If the null hypothesis is true, then a population widely similar to Britain in terms of ethnic and religious makeup (I’d recommend Germany as control) would yield the same figures. If the alternative hypothesis is true, then there would be a divergence. The point is that in and of itself, the numbers are not capable either to confirm or to support the null hypothesis. In other words, it shows you how many people think their religion is the best, but not why they think so, and more importantly, it shows you that twenty-something % think Islam is the worst, but not what it can be attributed to.There’s more, but I’ve got to hurry ;)(btw agnostic is pretty accurate here IMHO – atheist in this context may mean that they actively deny the existence of any deity and feel the necessity of bugging people with it, as they all so often do, while agnostic is just a ‘don’t care’ attitude)

  2. So, you’re saying that I can’t draw that conclusion because I don’t know what the people who answered were thinking? That the objection to Islam may not, in fact, be a religiously motivated one?Honestly, I’d enjoy some clarification – with less jargon if possible!

  3. FWIW: I think it’s a fair criticism of what was a fairly shoddy study. (Or a shoddy representation of one anyway.) But I guess there’s probably a lot of complex issues going on in this arena anyway, so phrasing good questions would be quite difficult.

  4. From the above data, you can say that – of all the people who have views on which religion is the best, more people think Christianity is best than any of the others,- of all the people who have views on which religion is the worst, more people think Islam is the worst than any of the others.What you cannot say from these figures is – that people who approve of Christianity disapprove of Islam,- that people who disapprove of Islam do so because they’re Christians,- that the disapproval figure is linked to Islamic terrorism (the main point of the article). Actually, you can’t disprove these, either – simply because this is the ‘wrong kind of data’. The experimental setup sucks. If the question is ‘did Britons become less tolerant of Islam because of the 7/7 terror attacks &c.’, what you need is a way to decide between the following:H1: Britons have a beef with Muslims because they perceive them to be involved with terrorism &c.H0: The disapproval of Islam is simply because it is, to the majority of respondents, an alien (used in the sociological sense) religion and culture. With the figures above, you cannot differentiate between H1 and H0. If you would like to do so, you could e.g. use a comparison between Britain and a state where the factors that influence H0 are present but those that influence H1 are not – e.g. Germany, where there is similarly a big Christian majority and a relatively large and important Muslim minority.Hope that helps.

  5. Actually Chris, that really does help. I still feel like like my hunch is basically correct, but I can’t use this poor data to back up my world-view. And as an atheist who likes to bug people with my opinions, you can imagine how annoying I find that! I’ll keep my eye out for the info behind this and maybe write a follow up post.I take your point on agnosticism too.Also, on an unrelated type-geek note, I’ve never seen anyone use ‘&c’ before. Neat!

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