The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust is tasked by the government to organise Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January. This year the Trust published a poll it had commissioned about the knowledge of UK adults about the Holocaust. The polling result which generated a lot of media interest was that 5% don’t believe the Holocaust really happened. (By region it was 8.6% in the West Midlands and over 10% in London).
Anyone who campaigns against antisemitism finds that figure entirely credible.
So how astonishing that the BBC’s Radio 4 statistics programme ‘More Or Less’ attempted to do a comprehensive hatchet job on the poll. And how deeply distasteful that Free Speech on Israel – the sister organisation to Jewish Voice for Labour – should trumpet the programme (though helpfully they post a transcript). Not to mention Justin Schlosberg of Birkbeck University:
The Radio 4 hatchet was wielded by Ruth Alexander of the BBC and an academic: Peter Lynn, Professor of Survey Methodology at the University of Essex. Lynn clearly does NOT campaign against antisemitism and is not familiar with the subject, because he told Ms Alexander that “I was immediately sceptical that this sounded a bit (umm) unlikely.” In other words, he was predisposed to pick holes in the survey methodology.
You don’t need to be a ‘Professor of Survey Methodology’ to quickly unpick the arguments put by Lynn and Alexander.
First we had Alexander: “I’ve spoken to three other survey design experts – they all agree, there are some serious flaws with this study.”
Who were they? What were their allegations? The Holocaust is too important for hearsay!
Then we had an entirely gratuitous and irrelevant comment from Alexander regarding the sincerity of the respondents: “After all, according to the latest census there are 177,000 people living in the UK who follow the Jedi religion.” The ‘Jedi’ response to the question on religion in the census was a harmless practical joke: Is Alexander seriously suggesting that enough respondents thought it so funny to deny the Holocaust as to skew the survey? How about other similar surveys such as this one, which found that 19% in Great Britain believe that commemorating the Holocaust distracts from other atrocities and injustices today? Were those respondents having a laugh too, Ms Alexander? (The figure for Muslims was a shocking 55%).
The ‘experts’ then suggested that the survey designers should have explained what the word ‘Holocaust’ means. That suggestion is easily rebutted – because only 1.2% of the respondents claimed never to have heard of the Holocaust!
Then came the pièce de résistance from the Prof: He suggested that respondents mistakenly answered “I agree” to the question ‘The Holocaust never happened’! Because the question came after two to which the antiracist respondent would have answered “I agree” (‘It’s important to know about the Holocaust’ and ‘More needs to be done to educate people about the Holocaust’). So (said Lynn) the respondent might have answered unthinkingly “I agree” to the next question as well (‘I agree that the Holocaust never happened’).
To assume such carelessness is taking a very dim view of the intelligence of the average respondent to surveys – and that’s putting it politely. Surely ‘The Holocaust never happened’ is not the kind of statement over which anyone with even a scintilla of intelligence would carelessly gloss? And if the 5% result is due to carelessness, what about the result that 8.2% think that the scale of the Holocaust is exaggerated? (11% in West Midlands and a shocking 15% in London).
Moreover what would be the point of opinion polls if carelessness is so prevalent?
More from the Prof: He obtained unpublished data from the poll, which gave a breakdown of the responses to the question ‘How many Jewish people do you think were murdered during the Holocaust?‘: “Only 5 people in the entire survey gave an answer of zero” he said. “5 people out of just over 2,000, so that’s one quarter of 1%.”
But 45% said they do not know how many Jews were murdered in the Holocaust! (Over 50% in London!):
This is not the first time that ‘More Or Less’ has come down firmly on the wrong side when it comes to statistics involving Jews and Israel. See here. This was a really shoddy episode and it will take a lot to restore my faith in the accuracy of the programme.
As for Free Speech on Israel/JVL …….. this is far from the first example of Holocaust distortion we have seen from them.
And Justin Schlosberg? No surprise at all to see him rushing to praise the minimisation of Holocaust deniers. Because he thinks that allegations of antisemitism in Labour are a smear by the ‘right-wing Jewish lobby.’
And wasn’t he the person who used academic jiggery-pokery to suggest that Corbyn is victimised by the media?
If you have Jewish children or grandchildren of university age, would you be happy if they were taught by Justin Schlosberg?
Postscript 1: Here is the Methods Director of the National Centre for Social Research applauding the BBC’s hatchet job,here ……….
Postscript 2: Matthew Parris repeated the More or Less reservations uncritically in the Times on 9 February (paywall):
‘Without meaning to, and though they acted only in good faith, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust’s poll has defamed this country.’