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Monday, 18 August 2008

Caller of the Week - Sexual Preference on Census Form

When I was at work last week one of my colleagues said he thought he had heard me on the radio one Friday afternoon but he wasn't sure if it was me. I had phoned into Newstalk ZB during the last week of the school holidays but it wasn't a Friday, so we sort of laughed that someone else sounded like me and then he said that the person he had heard had won caller of the week - so then I knew it couldn't have been me!

Over the weekend my family was over and my brother in law was hassling me about my call to the radio. He and my sister are somewhat left of centre (as in, Labour are too right wing) so we often good naturedly disagree on things and sure enough he was not happy with aspects of my call. He went on to offer a critique and I offered a defence, we went back and forward and then he finished with "well anyway I was most peeved to have to listen to your call twice, the first time when you rang in was bad enough but when you won caller of the week and the announcer thought you were so onto it I got really mad because you were wrong!" He then asked where the wine from Landmark Estate was anyway and hassled me for serving substandard wine. It then dawned on me that perhaps I had been caller of the week after all.

Despite having a blog and being rather into political debates I do not frequent talk back shows. We were driving home from Mt Albert pools and I heard the announcer say that the government were considering adding a question on sexual preference to the census form and listeners were invited to call in with their thoughts. On a whim I phoned the station, Matt was driving so what the hey!

I commented on the methodological flaws of the government gathering this data, citing Kinsey's report which utilised analogous methodology. The gist went basically that you are unlikely to obtain reliable results as the sort of people who volunteer to answer questions on their sexual preferences tend to be the sort of people whose sexual preferences are more 'out there,' those who are very private about their sexual preferences tend to be more conservative and are less likely to volunteer that sort of info. Kinsey's study invited people to participate and as such he found there to be a much higher number of more 'out there' sexual practices than other studies using better methodology which led to random samples. I concluded by asking why the government felt they had a place in our bedrooms anyway? I speculated that the purpose behind the proposed move was so they could rubber stamp their social agenda and stated that they should stick to law, order and defence.

My brother in law's issue was that on the radio I stated that Kinsey invited people to call in and in actual fact Kinsey's study was not a phone survey, the interviews were done face to face. My brother in law was quite right to pull me up on this factual error but he was wrong to suggest that my criticisms failed because of it. Kinsey interviewed a disproportionately high number of criminals, particularly sex offenders, Laumann writes in The Social Organisation of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States (Chicago University Press, 1994):
Kinsey roamed far and wide in selecting his subjects ... Kinsey also purposefully recruited subjects for his research from homosexual friendship and acquaintance networks in big cities.
Anyway, this led me to email Newstalk ZB and ask if indeed I was the caller of the week. I will update with their reply.

UPDATE: Newstalk ZB have confirmed I was caller of the week. Still waiting to hear if I get the Landmark Estate wine prize given I did not call in when it was announced.

UPDATE: A knock at the door yesterday saw the arrival of my prize along with this letter:

Dear Madeleine,
Newstalk ZB - Caller of the Week
2 Bottles of wine - just for you.

One bottle of Chardonnay one bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from Landmark Estate Wines. Matt and I polished off the Chardonnay last night, very nice - not remotely vinegary like some chardonnays. The Sauv is on hold til Sunday night - I must see if the promised repairs to my cupboard doors eventuates - otherwise my brother in law just gets a toast!


  1. Couldn't you make the same argument about the questions on religion or ethnicity in the census? Many people (whether or not it's a statistically significant amount, I don't know) object to answering those questions and will write "Jedi" or tick "Object to the question" on the form, but the question itself is still interesting as long as it is read in light of the facts you've mentioned. If only 2% of the population put "object to answering" on the sexual preference question, you might think the results are valid, but if 20% answer that, you could probably dismiss the results as potentially heavily skewed.

  2. I think you could make the same argument. The results may not skew as badly on those subjects because they are less private. Most religions call their followers to proudly wear their badges rendering religion something less of a private question but I am sure there is an imbalance between those who prefer to not answer and those who are vociferous and you may see a results skew. To get a true random cross sample you really need to use better methodology.

    Again though, if the role of the State is law, order and defence then it does not need information on any factors other than those which help it to administer those functions. I do not see it as the State's business to record information on religion or ethnicity either.


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