Statistics – grounds for manipulation
Another of a series of open lectures organised by the European Foundation of Human Rights took place in the Vilnius Branch of the University of Białystok at the beginning of June. This time it was Professor Bogusław Grużewski’s lecture entitled ‘The issue of distortion and correct interpretation of statistics and social research results’.
Professor Bogusław Grużewski, Director of the Vilnius Institute of Labour and Social Research, lecturer at the Vilnius Branch of the University of Białystok, the Chairman of the Association of Polish Scientists of Lithuania, author of over 75 magazine and publication articles, sparked interest of the listeners in the vital and current problem. He presented a few interesting issues connected with the issue of distortion and correct interpretation of statistics and social research results. Firstly though, he familiarised the audience with the rules of using various sources, their comparing and correct interpretation.
He discussed the methods of statistical and social research analysis used by the staff of government and non-government organisations. He talked about real discrepancy in percentage and its relation to the subject of the polling. He remarked on the difficulty of objective presentation of social research. In his opinion, the distortion of the presented data is unavoidable, but the distortion can be accidental as well as intentional (i.e. bearing the characteristics of manipulation).
Among the cases of incorrect presentation of data, he mentioned different treatment of the object of the survey by the subject and by the researcher, presenting a portion of results as overall result, keeping the terms of poll results reception secret, etc. That is why it is important to present research data comprehensively, the possibility to learn about the contents and order of the survey questions and good understanding of the socio-economic background of the group that was surveyed.
The lecturer also gave an example of incorrect presentation of research data, carried out by the Institute of Labour and Social Research in 2008, concerning the job market situation of men and women from ethnic minorities. The results were the basis for passing a new education act which put the minorities in Lithuania at a disadvantageous position. According to research, only 3,9% of Polish respondents gave insufficient command of Lithuanian as the reason for their unemployment.
The Institute responded to the action taken by the European Foundation of Human Rights, which found out that the research results quoted by the Lithuanian authorities were incorrect. The Foundation had noticed that the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights quoted the results presented by the Institute in its 2010 report. According the report, ‘42% of national minorities respondents in Lithuania said that the problems on the job market that they encountered were due to their inadequate command of Lithuanian’. Upon in-depth analysis of Institute’s research, the Foundation arrived at a conclusion that most of the minorities respondents in the research did not have any serious problems on account of their Lithuanian language skills.
Professor Grużewski reminded that the minorities’ representatives did not complain of the inadequate command of Lithuanian. The quoted figure of 42% merely reflects the opinion of the respondents, not their direct experience of key problems of national minorities seeking employment or trying to improve their job conditions. Such a response reflects only the fears of respondents and myths, not the reality. He went on to say that it was the answers to the following question that was of importance, as it concerned the evaluation of direct reasons for unemployment. In this question, only 6,7% of men indicated insufficient command of Lithuanian as the reason for unemployment. As mentioned before, only 3,9% of Polish respondents gave insufficient command of Lithuanian as the reason for their unemployment. While as the main reason for unemployment, they gave low remuneration (33,7%).
Furthermore, the lecturer added that interpretation of social research without broader context, comprehensive nature of questions and the aim of the study was not possible. The aim of this study was the assessment of job market situation of representatives of national minorities, that is why adult respondents (working age population) were the majority in the survey. He agreed with the opinion of the Foundation that older respondents left school before Lithuania became independent and for this reason their command of Lithuanian was poorer because during the Soviet occupation, it was the command of Russian that was adequate. The astonishing thing, as the lecturer said, is that Lithuanian authorities and politicians do not quote the original report of the Institute but only out-of-context sentences from the report of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. He also highlighted that with the correct interpretation of social research in mind, its discussion should not be done without those who carried it out.
In his lecture, Professor Grużewski touched upon the problems which arose in the 2011 Lithuanian census. Free flow of European Union citizens and the possibility of filling in forms online made the risk of data distortion real. For this reason, the Lithuanian Department of Statistics, the body responsible for the census, will make the results public at the beginning of 2013, because they have to be scrupulously verified and compared with information from other sources and other EU countries. The lecturer reminded that during occupation, the census was a way to manipulate the public opinion.
Tłumaczenie Katarzyna Różańska w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Katarzyna Różańska within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.