Letters to the Editor

The ABC’s Statistics and Lies

Sir: A summary of the results of the Australia Talks Survey was published by the ABC on its News website on June 10. The results are interesting mainly because they reveal the prejudices and intellectual deficiencies of ABC staff and (perhaps) consumers of ABC presentations.

The survey results appeared under the heading “Data Doesn’t Lie”. One might have thought by now that even the ABC would know data does indeed lie. The head of Risk and Evidence Communication at Cambridge University, Sir David Spiegelhalter, recently published an entire book explaining why data is at risk of being misapplied and misinterpreted (The Art of Statistics). Long ago Mark Twain popularised the saying, “There are lies, damned lies and statistics.” That well-known warning certainly applies to this ABC survey. The heading is a lie, and the contents are no better.

The first lie on the ABC News website is the omission of any mention of the well-known problems of sampling and confirmation bias that plague this type of survey. The survey results cannot be said to represent the opinions of any more than the 60,000 people who completed them. Exactly who they were or how they were selected, we are not told. We are told, however, that the survey is corrected to make it align with the known socio-demographic divisions of Australian society, though nothing was said about whether the survey might have avoided a bias towards the typical ABC audience.

In line with the ABC’s obsession with the differences between the sexes, the entire report of the Australia Talks Survey on June 10 is concerned with that issue. We learn that fewer women than men feel safe walking in their neighbourhoods at night; twice as many women as men consider themselves to be feminists; and men are twice as likely as women to date somebody much younger than themselves (interpreted as confirming that men are likely “to trade in their wife for a younger model”).

According to the report, most women, but only a quarter of men, think discrimination is a problem in Australia. Both “genders” are wary of dating anyone who is “extreme right” (because of Donald Trump). Twice as many women as men believe sexual assault allegations are almost always true, and this belief is much more widespread now than it was two years ago. Finally, more women than men favour cultural diversity in society and gender balance in leadership.

It seems everybody is agreed on two things only, and they are that Australians have a mental health problem—no wonder, it seems to me, if they follow the ABC—and not enough “equality”. 

It is no surprise that the Australia Talks Survey showed, with evident satisfaction, that most Australians share the progressive socialist ideology of the ABC, although men tend to be rather backward compared to women. The results simply confirm that the Women’s Weekly narrative, pushed relentlessly by the female-dominated ABC, appeals more to women than to men.

Stephen Due


The Superb Timothy Spall

Sir: Unfortunately, I feel that I shall emulate Turner’s action when he blotted his painting which was hanging at the Royal Academy with a lump of red-lead pigment. My intention is to affix a lump of critique to the piece by Joe Dolce in the May Quadrant, “Mr Turner and Mrs Lowry and Son: The Art of  Timothy Spall”.

I saw both films and I appreciate the detailed description that Mr Dolce gave of them. He successfully engaged and assisted the readers in an experience that otherwise is visual. Of course, that includes the connection and role that Mr Spall has with playing the principal characters of Turner and Lowry. Also, I want to presume that the word art in the title of the article refers as well to Mr Spall’s art of acting. 

I consider Mr Spall to be a fantastic character actor. That description can only be appreciated if one includes a major role that Mr Spall played in a film in 2016. I refer to his role in the movie Denial as David Irving.

Mr Irving is the prominent English historian who endeavoured to sanitise historically the criminal role of Adolf Hitler in the history of Western civilisation by maintaining a revision that the Holocaust never happened. He brought a libel case against Professor Deborah Lipstadt in the High Court, London, claiming that her description of him as an Holocaust denier in her book Denying the Holocaust brought damage to his reputation. He chose to appear himself on his behalf, before an English court, where the burden of proof lay with the defendant Lipstadt, making his legal action easier comparatively than such a claim in an American jurisdiction. Irving lost his case.

As David Hale, the scriptwriter for the film, who adapted Lipstadt’s book History on Trial, stated: “But far from being an attack on freedom of speech, Lipstadt’s defence turned out to be its powerful triumph. Freedom of speech may include freedom deliberately to lie, but it also includes the right to be called out on your lying.”

To my mind the superb ability of Timothy Spall as a character actor can be indicated if you include his characterisation of David Irving. Turner and Lowry are dead, but Irving is alive. Therefore, the impersonation has to be impeccable. Moreover, Spall has said in a Q&A session that he had no interest in interviewing Irving personally because of his distaste with the historian’s ideas. When an actor can play a “sweet” (dolce) role as well as a “bitter” (amaro) role, then his potential is realised.

Mario Linder


Dire Offences, Amorous Causes

Sir: After reading “Cancelling Gender” in the May edition, I would like to think it should come as no surprise to Keith Windschuttle that there are some of us “out there in the real world” who believe, as Virginia Woolf did, that the key to telling the truth is to use the right word in the right place. For this reason, it would never occur to those reasonably well-acquainted with finding the right word, to use gender when what was meant was sex. If we, like Virginia Woolf, want to use words which tell the truth, a substitute synonym will never do.

While we would never expect to have the sexual act graphically described in Jane Austen, it certainly is true that she writes a great deal about the sexes, and in Pride and Prejudice, for example, provides enough friction and suspense between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy to satisfy any modern reader capable of imagining a consummation that transcends a bland agreement simply to consent to have sex.

The use of the word sex, however, has been noticeably absent in the recent spate of sexual allegations against men, which have also included the accusation of rape. The circumstances in which these alleged offences have been committed and the language used to describe just what it is some women, described as courageous, are speaking out about, leaves much room for speculation and even more to the imagination. This language, while Me-too prescriptive, has left me wondering just what actually took place. Without exception, I’ve remained unconvinced that the females in question were not party to at least some of the blame.

It needs to be said—and to be able to be said—that many women who also oppose violence or coercion in any shape or form are of the same opinion. Some of us “out there” are wary of the dangers of any power imbalance that provides open slather to make accusations which must, by edict, be believed. It’s hard to imagine that the jargon replacing a love of language and the study of shades of meaning will find any place for novels named “Persuasion”; nor is it likely that concepts such as “discretion being the greater part of valour” or considerations of “dire offences springing from amorous causes” will be understood.

Patricia Wiltshire


A Most Unpopular Responsum

Sir: I found Michael Giffin’s article “The Catholic Response to Homosexuality” (May 2021) most interesting and thank him for it. I was particularly interested in his views about the three councils, Trent, Vatican I and Vatican II, and how they have created a more centralised, more difficult-to-manage Church.

However, I was somewhat surprised, when, after having mentioned John Paul II’s “unpopular responsumOrdinatio Sacerdotalis, he failed to mention probably the most unpopular responsum in living memory, Pope Paul VI’s prophetic encyclical Humanae Vitae.

Christopher Rule

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