Wednesday, December 2, 2009

My Quick Observations on the "Results" of Last Night's Munk Debate

I just wanted to provide a quick update (heavily flavoured with my opinion) of last night’s Munk Debate. If you weren’t able watch, you really missed out on a sensational, entertaining, raucus event. Even I was surprised at the level of passion the debaters showed last night, as well as the level of attacks, some of which were quite personal. For me, that was unexpected.

At the outset of the event, they live audience (where the debate was being held) were polled about the resolution: “That climate change is mankind’s defining crisis, and requires a commensurate response”. 61% agreed with the resolution, while 31% disagreed (presumably leaving 8% undecided). 79% of the audience indicated that their opinion could still be changed.

Elizabeth May and George Monbiot were the debaters for the PRO side of the resolution, while Bjorn Lomborg and Nigel Lawson were on the CON side. It looked like Lomborg and Lawson were facing a moderately hostile audience, and would have their work cut out for them.

At this point in the debate (before it began), I turned to the person sitting beside me and expressed my concern about the 61% number. A very recent Harris-Decima poll had come out the day before, asking a quite similar question of the Canadian public at large. Harris-Decima’s results were a little higher than those in attendance: just under 66% of Canadians believed climate change to be our defining crisis.

Maybe the audience wasn’t as “hostile” to the CON side as might be expected.

At the end of the debate, the audience was polled again, in an effort to determine which side “won” the debate, based on changed opinions. The final results: 56% agreed with the resolution, while 44% disagreed (no undecided).

This works out to a change of 5% for those who had “decided” that they agreed with the resolution. The CON side, though, benefited from an overall increase of 13%, which accounts for the 5% shift from the PRO side, and took all 8% of the undecided.

Now, this doesn’t mean that every undecided individual cast their vote for the CON side at the end of the debate; but if they didn’t, there was likely a larger shift in the PRO side numbers. I speculate that’s what happened, but the fact is we’ll never know.

Anyway, the result of the debate is quite clear to me: with the shift to the CON side of 13%, it is clear to me that the CON side is able to boast that they “won” the debate. And boast I’m sure they shall.

Admittedly, had I been one of those polled in the audience, I would have identified my own support for the PRO side, and indicated that my opinion could not be shaken. Watching last night’s debate, my own opinion was only reinforced by the discussions. So do keep in mind my own bias when I say that I’m not sure what debate these 13% were watching to arrive at the conclusion that the CON side presented the better arguments. They did not. And Elizabeth and George did quite a bit to diffuse those arguments, including a fairly personal attack on Bjorn by Elizabeth, which may have been over the top (although her issue with Bjorn’s lack of concern about stimulus spending is a good one: if he’s so damn caught up in these other issues, why hasn’t he been raising a stink about all of this stimulus money being spent which doesn’t address these other big issues? Maybe because it’s “all about” climate change to him after all!).

One thing during the debate struck me as odd (and admittedly, I was viewing this on a webcast, so my observations might not reflect what was really happening). Bjorn received a heck of a lot of applause fairly early on from an audience who was 61% in favour of the Resolution. More than Elizabeth and George received. Maybe there were just a few supporters of Bjorn’s in the audience making a lot of noise, maybe his arguments were having an immediate impact on people’s decision making. I don’t know. And I won’t know.

But what I do know is that the format for obtaining a “winner” in this debate is one which is easily tampered with. Tickets were sold out for this event very quickly. If they were snapped up by CON side supporters, the initial audience vote on the Resolution clearly could have been tainted if the CONs voted PRO, only to reverse themselves on the final vote so that a CON “victory” could result. It’s easy to manipulate. I say this tongue-in-cheek: I’m sure that none of the PRO side supporters would have engaged in such shenanigans.

So, when the climate change deniers trot this result out to bolster their own case, take it with a super-huge grain of salt. The process for obtaining a “winner” was anything but a secure process.

In defence of the Munk Debates, no one associated with the debate ever used the term “winner” or “loser” with reference to this process (at least not that I observed), likely because they understood very well the flaws inherent in the process. Having said that, though, by setting things up this way, clearly one side would be able to “claim victory” over the other. And in last night’s debate, the CONS won it at least one “con” of their own (and I’m not talking about vote-rigging here; I’m talking about the continual con they try to pull over people’s eyes about the science of climate change...which is a much bigger con than having a few a supporters switch their votes).

If you are able, listen to or watch the debate. It really is a must-see. But do expect to experience a fair degree of frustration!


Anonymous said...

Oh, give it up. Conspiracy theory. Yeah, right.

Chris KN said...

To be honest, the debate was completely pointless and a massive waste of time. As Elizabeth May very astutely pointed out in her opening remarks, not a single one of those four was an expert. None were qualified to be speaking about climate science or economics. All of them spent a large amount of time talking out their backsides, to be honest.

It was entertaining only when it got personal and was enlightening at no time.

I also felt that having the audience voting devalued the whole experience. It was all about winning points, and that petulant little s.o.b. Bjorn Lomborg was definitely the best at that, even if any sensible person would have noticed that he was arguing off an obviously false premise.

Also, I have to correct your assertion that nobody associated with the debate used the terms "winners" and "losers." The Green Party website, when acknowledging Ms. May's appearance prior to the debate, used the phrase "Winner Take All."

Chris Kivinen-Newman

PS: Anonymous, get a life. If you're not going to post your name, your opinion is not welcome.

Anonymous said...

Hey Chris KN,

Spoken like a real partisan. Don't want anonymous comments? - turn off the option.

Don't like debates? - don't participate in them, or watch them.

Don't like the political process? claim conspiracies.

Don't want to look foolish? - don't bring the 'A' Team, put all your eggs in one basket, then flounder.

Sudbury Steve said...

Chris, thank you kindly for your thoughtful comments. I was unaware that the GPC website was using the terminology “Winner take all” to describe the debate. One might be suspect that the Party would have been completely aware of the obvious flaws in the vote system (something we Greens tend to be more than a little obsessed about under most circumstances); given that knowledge, it is somewhat curious that the Party would set itself up for looking a little foolish once the results were posted. I guess if “winner take all” was really at stake, it’s time for the Green Party to take up Nigel Lawson’s cause and just ignore the cimpacts of climate change.

But then again, I’m not certain that the Party tends to always think things through. Although perhaps they really did think they could win. I wonder what efforts were undertaken on the part of the Party to ensure that PRO supporters’ bums occupied the seats? To me, that would have been the only sure-fire way to achieve the result they wanted. Yes, this might have required a degree of organization which I’ve generally not seen in the Party. And the negative result proves that, if that were the strategy, it failed.

I also agree that as far as scoring points, Bjorn Lomborg out-performed the others (although I was also impressed with George Monbiot’s ability to bring the conversation down to a personal level: more proof that our own stories can have significant impacts). Lomborg presented his “facts” in a very compelling way. His delivery, even on the webcast, felt like he was trying to connect with the viewers, through his movement around the stage, and positive body language. These are neat tricks to employ, along with the use of straw-man arguments (which I’m glad Elizabeth pointed out).

As far as “conspiracy theories” go, what I’ve suggested is hardly a conspiracy. In politics, it’s called “business as usual”, something many of us Greens tend not to appreciate. And until we do, we’ll continue to put limits on our successes in whatever endeavours we try to undertake. We’ll be out-spun by the spin-masters, out-performed by the organized, and out-witted by the devious political minds who know how to play the game.

If anyone out there truly thinks that the vote in the Munk Debate had anything to do with the reality of the debate, or some sort of "democratic process", all I can say is that you’re incredibly naive about the world of politics. And make no mistake: the Munk Debate on Climate Change was all about politics. The lack of real experts should have been a tip-off. If not, the inclusion of two politicians and two others with vested interests should have been a slap in the face to wake you up to this fact.

And politics is about spin. It could only ever be about spin. And the PRO side lost the spin battle because we don’t play the game as well as the CONS.

Chris KN said...

It was a pretty telling moment when Mr. Lomborg interrupted Ms. May's scheduled time, by actually standing up and delivering a speech, while Mr. Munk sat and watched. Then, when Ms. May got offended by the fact that the other two mocked her legitimate point about the link between climate change and AIDS, Mr. Munk finally interjected, saying they needed "a time out," and cut her time off.

That moment made me have a lot of sympathy for what Elizabeth goes through on a day-to-day basis as a woman in politics. Having her time cut off with Mr. Munk calling it a "time out" was the manifestation of why she fights so hard to fix the gender imbalance in the halls of power. It was blatantly sexist and condescending (even if it was unintentionally so).

I don't have a lot of respect for Elizabeth May as a leader, but I certainly gained a lot more understanding for what she goes through.

And, yes, it was clear that Mr. Lomborg had a lot of his supporters in the crowd. He's like a rock star to the small-minded-psuedo-intellectual crowd who like to read only what reinforces their own prejudices. This was evident when he got such a raucous cheer for his assertion that we should distribute condoms INSTEAD of combating global warming, as if we could (and should) only do one or the other. It's imbecilic at best but it plays well to the conservative mindset that can't make connections between issues that aren't one degree of separation apart from each other.

Anonymous said...

Hey Einstein,

It was called the Munk debates. Peter Munk was the person who so glowingly introduced Elizabeth May and others at the beginning.

Rudyard Griffiths was the moderator. If you're going to write partisan hack comments, at least get the names right.

Chris KN said...

My apologies. Rudyard Griffiths indeed. Thanks for pointing out my error.

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins said...

Hey Chris, there's another way the debate was systematically tilted against May.

Did you notice that she never sat down, while the other three guys did? Did you wonder why?

The simple answer is that the hosts only provided those really high bar-stool type seats, and she was too short to climb up onto her chair in her long business skirt. (Plus she had a hip replaced only 2 years ago). The other three, all men, were each a good 6 inches or more taller than her and in pants (with original hips), so had no trouble. She had asked for a lower seat when she arrived but they refused to change it for her. So she got to stand throughout while the others got to relax between speeches.

I can believe it was an accident to set up that way, but it's inexcusable that they didn't correct things when she pointed out the problem. Would they have left her with a full height podium if she'd been in a wheelchair?

Anonymous said...

Erich dutifully spinning, as requested.