Don't be Counted!
By Nicholas Levis
October 12, 2007:
Today many of us received a long e-mail addressed to "Dear 9/11 Truth Movement Member," purporting to be from an anonymous "psychology student in the New York City area" (firstname.lastname@example.org). It asks for participation in a "9/11 Truth Movement Survey" consisting of 80 mostly multiple-choice questions that will eat up a good part of your day. Among its stated goals, the survey is aimed at finding out "Who the TM members are and how they gather and communicate information," "What attracts people to the TM," "Why they stay involved and become activists," and "Why they drop out."
I am urging everyone not to fill out this survey and not to forward it to anyone else - except perhaps as a warning - and in general, never to respond to anonymous requests for personal information.
However, if you feel so inclined, since the sender already has your e-mail, perhaps you should respond to urge him or her to announce an immediate cancellation of the survey. In that case, you can include a link to this article.
Here are a few of the problems to consider:
- The surveyor does not make clear how the e-mail list of recipients was harvested, or why the recipients should be considered representative of the abstract concept, "9/11 truth movement," which the message does not attempt to define. The surveyor's invitation to forward the survey to others also means responses will be received from people he or she did not contact in the first place. What is to prevent those who actually oppose the very idea of a "9/11 truth movement" from also responding, so as to taint and distort the results?
- Even if one believed in the utility of such a survey and in the possibility of accurately delimiting the "members" of a group known as the "9/11 truth movement," the approach remains wildly un-scientific. No serious professor should be allowing it. A self-selected group of e-mail respondents do not constitute a random sampling of the group under study, and therefore cannot yield generalizable results about that group. (In this case, those whose instinct is not to respond are likely to constitute the majority, with good reason.)
- Yet once the results end up in the public domain, which they will thanks to the anonymous surveyor's stated intent to "share the results with all participants," they will be used and exploited as though they constitute an accurate picture of "the 9/11 truth movement."
- While certain to be inaccurate due to methodology, and invalid due to its inherent assumptions, the results of the survey may still affect those who self-identify as "truth movement members" by either reinforcing or discouraging opinions they already hold. This will favor group-think over critical assessment of one's own chosen facts and opinions. Are we genuine skeptics or followers? Are we activists or navel-gazers?
- The survey evinces no interest in the truth of any given statement per se, only in the opinions of people who self-identify as members of the "truth movement" (which is perhaps coyishly abbreviated as "TM," indicating a brand name). If we are a movement with goals for political change proceeding from "truth," we should care less about which ideas are more or less popular amongst us than about how to confirm or disprove these ideas empirically and, if we can confirm them, how best to convey them to a larger public.
- A great many of the questions including the first 27 are indistinguishable from a standard marketing or product-development survey, in this case aimed at a "wired," youthful demographic. The questions are designed to identify what kind of consumer you are, whether you belong to Internet "social networks" like Facebook (a "none of the above" category is not included for that question), how many podcasts you consume, etc. Regardless of the surveyor's intent, the results will serve as fodder to those forces who are determined to treat "9/11 truth" exclusively as a niche market for consumer products.
- There are hundreds of known exponents of 9/11 research and 9/11-related activism. The multiple-choice questions offering a choice of one's favored "spokespersons" are restricted to a handful of such persons, and a bias favoring the new and spectacular will be obvious to anyone familiar with the names on offer as potential "9/11 truth spokespersons." These names are by no means a representative sampling of active or potential "spokespersons," and at best indicate that the surveyor hasn't bothered very much to research the movement or its history. (If you have read the survey, you will know what we mean.) This is also true of the questions relating to favored films, news sources and especially radio programs - which for some reason are restricted to a long list of the mostly-similar offerings available on two radio networks only (GCN and RBN), with a couple of tokens thrown in from "Air America."
- All of the above is aside from the question of whether having a "best spokesperson for 9/11 Truth," especially one determined by a survey, is a good thing.
- Once again: Who is this anonymous "psychology student," what is his or her institution, and why should we believe any statements about the survey's intent? How do we know this isn't going to turn into yet another attempt to distract away from the political issues 9/11 truth addresses, and to focus instead on the purported psychology of "truth movement members"? (Note also the surveyor's possibly ominous interest in "Why they drop out" of the movement.) Regardless of the surveyor's intent, that is exactly how the results will be used by others, including the so-called "9/11 debunkers" who may themselves provide a large number of the respondents as a hoax.
Counting you can act as a way to put a cap on your numbers. By definition, a movement static enough to count is no longer moving, but has been splayed out on a table for dissection by its academic superiors. Don't let a "psychology student" or any other uninvolved academic purporting objectivity define who we are. And most of all, don't let any definition of "who we are" substitute for the dynamic struggle for truth in the public sphere, which is what our actual purpose should be.