SPLC — Damned Lies and Statistics — Part 1

Mark Twain is credited, among others, with the observation that, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” As demonstrated in an earlier post on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Hate Map,” the SPLC is not above a little creative accounting when it comes to maintaining the flow of tens of millions of donor dollars every year.

As the number of actual “hate groups” dwindles, the SPLC is forced to either create new ones out of thin air or find something else with which to tug at the heart- and purse-strings of its mostly elderly donor base. In recent years the SPLC has been mining the plight of illegal aliens in the US to that end.

In April, 2009, SPLC public relations guru, Mark Potok, announced the release of a new study undertaken by the Center that examined living conditions for these people.

Under Siege: Life for low-income Latinos in the South claims to document the wide range of crimes and discrimination inflicted on illegal aliens, and there is no doubt whatsoever that those residing in this country illegally are exposed to many such dangers. The fault with the “report” lies not in its premise, but in its methodology and intentionally misleading language.

Some of the claims made by the report include:

  • “Forty-one percent of those surveyed had experienced wage theft where they were not paid for work performed. In New Orleans, an astonishing 80% reported wage theft.”
  • “Overall, thirty-two percent of Latinos surveyed reported on-the-job injuries.”
  • “Sixty-eight percent of respondents say they suffer racism in their daily lives.”
  • “Key finding: 47% of respondents know of someone treated unfairly by the police.”

Pretty damning charges and no doubt based on true events. Who could read such shocking statistics and not be moved? A little closer reading of the same document, however, paints a different picture.

First, the key phrases in the charges listed above are “surveyed” and “respondents”. Without knowing how many people were actually surveyed, statistics such as “41%” are meaningless.

Second, it is also imperative to know how the survey sample was selected and how the survey was conducted. How can you interpret a response without knowing what the question was and how it was asked?

Fortunately, Under Siege includes a section that explains the methodology employed in this report.

  • “Researchers visited five locations in the South for this report: Nashville, Charlotte, New Orleans, rural southern Georgia and several towns in northern Alabama.”
  • “More than 500 Latinos — approximately 100 in each location –were interviewed.”

How many are “more than 500”? 501? 599? The SPLC knows exactly how many surveys it conducted. Legitimate surveys state the exact number of respondents.

Chapter 7 of the report, Key findings, indicates that surveys took place in 11 locations in Georgia and 6 in Alabama, meaning as few as 9 to 16 people, on average,  were interviewed in a given area. Not exactly a representative statistical sample.

The most damning revelation of the methodology states that “Because the targeted population is difficult to identify and contact, we used the snowball sampling method, in which study subjects refer researchers to additional subjects. Because study subjects were not chosen randomly, estimates from the survey may be biased.”

“May be biased”?? The link to ChangingMinds.org, above,  gives an extensive description of the inherent  biases built into the “snowball” method, wherein interviewees are asked to refer friends and relatives to take the survey as well.

In addition, the Methodology section also mentions that, “Respondents were asked questions from a standard survey. Based on their answers, some respondents were asked by a Spanish-speaking researcher to elaborate on their experiences.”

The survey does not include a list of the questions asked, nor does it indicate which answers would trigger the second-tier interview.

“Some of the stories told in the report come from plaintiffs in lawsuits filed by the SPLC.”

So, not only did the SPLC cherry pick its survey sample, including references from people who were already plaintiffs in SPLC lawsuits, some of those respondents were treated differently from the others. This is NOT the standard scientific method of survey sampling.

It’s like a cereal manufacturer commissioning a survey on consumers’ breakfast habits. An unspecified number of people are asked what they had for breakfast and ten respond “cereal.” These ten are then singled out and  asked, “Do you prefer cereal or waffles for breakfast?” to which seven people reply “Cereal.”

The next day the press release goes out announcing “70% of breakfast eaters prefer cereal.”

The SPLC’s statistics in this report are worthless and serve solely to solicit monetary donations. And the media lapped it up and dutifully regurgitated it on command thousands of times over, without ever having read the “report”.

  • Interestingly, some of the forms of discrimination documented by the “report” include “hostility,” ranging from “looks” to “physical abuse,” although no accompanying numbers describe the distribution or define “abuse”.
  • “Anti-immigrant” housing codes that limit the number of unrelated people who can live in a single residence.
  • Many areas in the South charge substantial fines for driving without a license.
  • “A number of jurisdictions use minor traffic offenses to funnel immigrants into deportation proceedings as well.”

These are discriminatory laws?

And of course, being an SPLC “report”, the assumption going in is that all of the abuses endured by illegal aliens are at the hands of “racist” whites. No mention is made of brown-on-brown or black-on-brown crimes, which predominate.

Under Seige is just one more example of the the public relations fund raising propaganda of which Mr. Potok is a master craftsman.

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