[Linux-aus] Young Aussies say pirated software is OK

Glen Turner gdt at gdt.id.au
Mon Feb 9 18:53:56 EST 2009

Charles Gregory wrote:
> http://www.news.com.au/technology/story/0,28348,25010496-5014239,00.html
> Young Aussies say pirated software is OK

<rant from an old statistician>


You want to get something into the paper. It's possibly bad
news so you've got to set the tone up-front.  The currently
trendy way to do this is with a "PR research".

The survey is a hook, it catches journalists looking for an
easy angle on a story. Then the PR people reel them in. The
survey is also a neat device for keeping the journalist
on-topic: it guides the writing of the story and it gives
a neat escape from inconvenient follow-up questions ("we're
here today to talk about the survey").

In these days, a throw-away mention of a survey in reportage
should be an alarm about lazy journalism.  In fact, this article
relaxes even the careful wording of the media release:

   Nearly half (45%) of all Australians believe that it's
   okay, at least in some situations, to use pirated software
   for personal use, according to a study commissioned by
   Microsoft Australia

The qualifier "at least in some situations" shows a
perhaps-rigged question.  Because it *is* possible for
the respondents to think of some situations where it is
okay (both morally and legally) to to use pirated software.
So the question measures two things:
   1. Is it OK to use pirated software?
   2. Can you think of a scenario where copyright law lapses?
There's no way to untwist those two motivations for the response,
so it's a poor question.

In a continuing survey that poor question would show up in the
post-survey interviews and be corrected. But of course this is
"PR research" and there is no follow-up work.

The disappointing aspect is that a real survey about attitudes to
copyright and infringement would be deeply interesting.  We expect
rigorous work for attitudes of the public towards politicians
and their causes. Why don't the same firms deliver the same
standard of work outside of politics?


  Glen Turner

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