Something interesting about Any Questions question on Radio 4 today about the muslim preacher Anjem Choudary; paraphrase, ‘should someone who represents small extreme view be given airtime?’ (UK link here, overall show link here).

[br]The debate was interesting for the thing it lacked, IMHO.

[br]He was given an interview on the popular Radio 4 morning news and discussion show a few days previously. The wisdom of this was discussed.

[br]Many commentators talked in the deliberative space (there are news reports subsequent in a similar vein; Telegraph, Evening Standard). On the radio the panel talked of Choudary’s views, his positioning, in some cases eloquently calling-back to similar scenarios and doing a read-across to today (particularly Portillo and his view then-and-now of silencing IRA spokespeople). But no one talked of the reflexive-automatic comprehension that comes unavoidably with any presentation of opinion.

[br]This is important to consider.

[br]A view presented without placing it in context of the total range of views is likely to be over- or under-weighted. This itself may not be of consequence, but why not try to attenuate error where possible?

Mindspace and Max

Mindspace is the well-known report and behavioural mnemonic written by The Institute for Government, LSE, and for the UK Gov back in 2010 fathered by Dolan (LSE) and Halpern (UK Gov/IfG). In it is a description of employing the norm condition in schools.

A programme that brought back to school teenaged mums in order to help the non-parenting teenagers understand the reality of having a child so young in order that they may make considered and principled decisions about contraception back-fired tremendously by normalising and over-weighting the perception of the prevalence of teenaged parenthood.

‘the local practice of having previous teenage parents come and talk . . . helped them imagine themselves in that situation (Salience), made it seem more normal (Norms), and the young mothers themselves seemed rather impressive and grown-up (Messenger).’

[br]This reflexive-automatic comprehension was attenuated by asking schools to bring back a more representative range of lifestyle outcomes for young people;

‘A typical panel of 20-something ex-students had three who were not parents, of whom one was recently married, one was in a long-term relationship, and one who had recently broken up. The fourth was also recently married and had just had a child. The fifth, on some of the panels, had been a teen parent.’

[br]As is often the case with young people, they were articulate and impressive, and made concrete the consequences of a choice. And the presentation of a more representative sample delivered the norm that most people who leave school do not become teenage parents.

[br]Similarly, Choudary’s views are delivered as real for him, but not representative of a norm.

[br]Max Boykoff – of whom I have written before – saw similar effects when observing a decade of newspaper reports in the US and UK of the anthropomorphic climate science debate where the intra-arcticle structure pitted ‘for’ and ‘against’ opinions generating the automatic-reflexive inter-article impression that the science was ~50:50 in favour despite the science being ~90:10 in favour.

[br]The presentation of the whole range of option/opinion presents an automatic-reflexive ‘below the water line’ impression that is both a more accurate representation of share-of-voice and recognised. It is not a choice, nor playing at the margins. The lack of understanding without the spread really screws our understanding.

I suggest the challenge isn’t should he be given a voice, but that he should be given a voice in a representative ratio. The leads to another question; should that be inter-interview, inter-programme, or inter-broadcaster? Or more?[br]That needs some more research.

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