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Anthony Wells, who has been doing a marvellous job of plugging my political survey, expresses a little confusion about what its preliminary results mean. This is fair enough, since there's basically no explanation on that page. So as a public service, I'll tell you all about it....
For those of you who haven't done the survey or something like it, the first thing to say is, go and do it now -- doing so will make me very happy. (OK. A little bit happy. Whatever.) The second thing to say is that the survey consists of a list of `statements' (loosely, I refer to these as `questions'). Each statement is presented as a proposition, and respondents are asked whether they agree with each statement, `as [it] would apply to the country where [they] live'. Implicitly the statements describe policies or something like them: possible courses of action or ideas which should inform decisions by governments or citizens.
So, each statement gets a response, like this:
(Note that there's an ambiguity here, between disinterest and uninterest. Ignore that.)
Now, one problem with a survey like this is that the way each proposition is phrased will influence its results. So the propositions all have two forms, which are supposed to be the converse of one another, for instance,
|Sometimes interest rates should be raised to reduce inflation, even if doing so would cause a large number of job losses.||It's not worth raising interest rates to reduce inflation if this would result in the loss of large numbers of jobs.|
|Overall, economic migrants bring benefits to our country.||Overall, economic migrants are a drain on our country.|
|Anybody who wants top-quality health care should expect to have to pay for it.||Everybody has a right to top-quality health care, even if they aren't wealthy.|
(Note that the terms `normal' and `converse' don't carry value judgements; they are just terms. The two forms of each statement could be labelled `a' and `b' instead; it wouldn't make any difference.)
You can also look at the full list of statements, but please take the survey first.
Each respondent to the questionnaire is given every available statement, in one of its two forms. A few of these statements are then repeated in the other form at the end of the survey. The pairs of answers to the two forms of the same question can then be compared, to see whether those who agree with one form necessarily disagree with the other. This is what the set of graphs at the top of the preliminary results are about. An example:
|New roads and railways should be built by private companies, not the government.||New roads and railways should be built by the government, not private companies.|
The grey bars at top and left show the distribution of answers to the two forms of the question. Bigger bars mean more answers. So, most people disagreed with the `normal' form, and agreed with the `converse' form -- in both cases, thinking that transport infrastructure is the job of the state. (This probably reflects the political biases of my friends. Anthony's Tory readers, if they complete the survey in sufficient numbers, may swing the pendulum back again.)
The blue boxes show the responses of people who answered both forms of the question. Darker shades mean more people. In this case, two people disagreed strongly with the `normal' version, and agreed strongly with the `converse' form; and one each in the other combinations. Of note is the one respondent who disagreed with the `normal' form, but agreed strongly with the `converse form'.
The black line shows a best-fit line through the pairs of answers. Later on, the analysis relies on being able to turn the `converse' answers into `normal' answers, and this line is used to do it. In this case it tells us that somebody who agrees strongly with the `converse' statement would probably have answered somewhere between disagree strongly and disagree to the `normal' statement. The fact that the line goes from top left to bottom right is a Good Thing, since it indicates that the two statements are good antonyms.
Here's another example:
|National law should always override international agreements.||Sometimes international agreements should override national law.|
Here, there are a number of people who disagree with both forms of the statement. Arguably a contradiction, this probably means that the statements could be worded more clearly. It's worth noting that (a) we have only four pairs of points on this plot, which is not really enough to reach any secure conclusions; (b) the two distributions (grey bars) do appear to be the converse of one another, sort of: lots of people disagree with the `normal' statement, and agree with the `converse' statement, which is good. Nevertheless, the fact that the best-fit line goes from bottom left to top right is a Bad Thing, and suggests that this statement may not be a good one.
Next we come to the most and least correlated statement pairs.
What's going on here is that we look at all the responses to each pair of statements (mapping `converse' onto `normal' using the best-fit lines, as above), and see how the answers to the pairs of statements are related to one another. The column marked `Cov' is the covariance in the responses; MathWorld has the gory details, but basically,
So, for instance, somebody who agrees that `Drug abuse is a problem primarily because of its effects on drug users, not its effects on the rest of society' is likely to disagree that `Our armed forces should intervene to stop genocide in other countries'; whereas, somebody who thinks that `Some crimes are so serious that the only proper punishment is the death penalty' is likely also to think that `Anybody who wants top-quality health care should expect to have to pay for it'.
(It's worth noting that there really aren't enough results to draw any useful conclusions from this, yet. But these results are encouraging, in the sense that they agree with widely-held stereotypes.)
On the `not at all related' side, we discover that peoples' views on whether `Aid projects abroad should always be funded by charities, not the taxpayer' are basically unrelated to whether they think that `Smokers should be required to kick the habit before receiving medical care for smoking-related illnesses'; and believing that `Correct grammar is important' is unrelated to thinking that `Everyone should have the right to trial by jury'.
Next comes the real meat of the survey.
Having collected a large number of sets of responses, we want to pick out combinations of statements which characterise particular views. As a pedagogical example, the traditional left -- right axis might be characterised (or, perhaps more accurately, caricatured) by agreement with a combination of statements like,
But the point of this survey is to pick the combinations of statements which characterise peoples' views automatically, or, rather, without the intervention of human prejudice.
A classical statistical technique for this is called principal components analysis. I refer to a good summary in my notes about the survey methodology, but basically all you need to know is that this procedure picks out combinations -- called `eigenvectors' -- of statements which correspond to the greatest spread (in fact, variance) among the respondents. (If you're happy to imagine a sixty-something dimensional space, the eigenvectors describe the axes -- the longest dimensions -- of the cloud of points in that space which represent the responses to the questionnaire. There's a two-dimensional example in the summary I link to above, which is probably easier to visualise....)
Each eigenvector consists of a list of statements and numbers. The numbers say how important the statement is in determining where a respondent lies along the eigenvector; a positive number means that agreeing with the statement pushes you further along the eigenvector; a negative number means that disagreeing does. The various eigenvectors are independent (strictly, `orthogonal'), meaning that moving along one of them doesn't affect your position on the others.
The eigenvectors are listed in order of their importance. So, for instance, the most important one -- the one which explains the largest part of the variation among the responses -- starts with,
|-0.278684||It's more important to rehabilitate criminals than to punish them.||disagree|
|+0.271630||Some crimes are so serious that the only proper punishment is the death penalty.||agree|
|+0.266926||Some people should not have access to the Internet.||agree|
|+0.227868||Aggressive foreign policies can put a stop to international terrorism.||agree|
|-0.223052||Services like health care, education and social security should be provided by the government, not by private enterprise.||disagree|
|+0.209522||Anybody who wants top-quality health care should expect to have to pay for it.||agree|
|-0.191752||Our armed forces should intervene to stop genocide in other countries.||agree|
|-0.186817||The mix of minorities in public institutions should reflect their numbers in the general population.||disagree|
So, a person who believes in severely punishing criminals (executing some of them), leaving some people without access to the `Information Superhighway', privatising the NHS, leaving people in the third world to stew in their own juices and who doesn't like affirmative action would be at the extreme end of this axis. Naively we might say that this axis is about authoritarianism, belief in the supremacy of the nation state and in market capitalism.
The next most important axis starts,
|+0.423295||Our armed forces should intervene to stop genocide in other countries.||agree|
|+0.257066||Scientists bear no moral responsibility for how their discoveries are used.||agree|
|+0.242227||Dealing with nuisance crimes like petty vandalism makes serious crime less likely.||agree|
|-0.238125||Some technologies should never be used, whatever their benefits.||disagree|
|-0.233065||There are some sexual acts which are immoral, even between consenting adults.||disagree|
|-0.217044||Shared religious beliefs should be an important part of our society.||disagree|
|+0.184733||Sometimes civilians are a legitimate military target.||agree|
|-0.184652||To protect society from drug abuse, narcotics must be banned.||disagree|
Here, a person who believes in intervening to stop genocide abroad (apparently sometimes bombing civilians to do so...), the effectiveness of `zero tolerance' policing, the `Feynmann principle' (that scientific discovery and social responsibility are decoupled), legalising drugs and allowing people to do what they like in bed, and who doesn't believe in god will wind up at the extreme end of this axis. It's harder to say what this axis `means', but some of the issues can be identified with traditional social liberalism.
I'll repeat that we don't have enough data to say anything very useful about these yet. These results probably tell us a reasonable amount about my friends and others they've told about the survey, but not about the population at large.
Nevertheless, the formation of the first two eigenvectors is quite interesting. In particular, the axes don't in any way resemble the `economic' and `social' axes imposed by the politicalcompass.org people. And the particular statements which wind up in independent eigenvectors are interesting too: it's surprising, for instance, that the statement about sexual freedom doesn't appear high up in the eigenvector which describes (sort of) `authoritarianism'.
This raises a last issue to mention before I go to bed. Since these axes are picked out of the data by an automatic statistical procedure, we don't `know' what they mean. Above, I've tried to attach some clichéd labels to them; others might disagree with the words I've used, and in any case it doesn't really mean anything to say that person X is 0.73 `authoritarian' while person Y scores only 0.57. (Well, it might tell me whether I'd want to share a house with them....)
In order to give the results some context, what I want to do is copy the politicalcompass.org people in guessing the answers which would be given by famous politicians, and then show respondents where their answers place them relative to those notable people. I've started work on this, but it's actually quite difficult, since to do this honestly requires a fair amount of research. I may try sending the survey to actual honest-to-goodness political celebrities -- probably those who are somewhere between retirement and senility, if I want there to be any significant chance they'll respond -- so that I can get some results straight from the horses' mouths. I don't know how successful that's likely to be. I'd also appreciate if anyone who is intimately familiar with the programmes of the UK's various political parties would tell me how Manifesto Man (or Woman) -- the imaginary person who has swallowed whole and taken to heart that party's entire set of policies -- would respond. That would allow me to show where people lie in relation to the individual parties, too.
Francis Irving and Julian Todd are working on an interesting project called The Public Whip, a site which digs through Hansard to produce a searchable database of how each MP votes (and, in particular, how often they rebel against their party whip -- hence the name). Also interesting is their clustering of MPs.
Today I'm going to tell you about a formative experience of my childhood. (I can't prove that it was a formative experience, but it's one of the few I can remember from its time, so it's probably fair to assume that it had some effect on me.)
One day in primary school, we were all told to draw pictures of rivers. (Presumably, in that time before the National Curriculum, it was permissible for the teachers to select tasks according to their educational value rather than by government diktat. I don't know whether today's children learn to draw pictures of rivers. Perhaps they don't need to.)
I was, I suppose, a child of modestly wide experience. I had seen rivers on more than one occasion-- notably, the Thames, in my then home town of London. I knew what rivers look like: they are wide, and they are brown:
So I drew a wide, brown river.
I responded that, whereas rivers may be made of water, I had seen rivers and they are not blue. Rather, they are brown, as I had drawn. By way of reply, she told me that I was wrong; that I was being petulant; and that she would prove me wrong by showing me a picture of a river.
Which, after some time she did, calling me to her desk and saying -- I paraphrase, as I cannot remember her exact words -- ``Look at this picture of a river. See how it is blue.''
She had a photograph of a river. I can call it to mind easily. It was an A4 glossy print with a white border about a centimetre wide; a picture of the sort of riparian paradise you might associate with Three Men in a Boat or The Wind in the Willows. It was a picture of a pretty, graceful river, wending its way through tidy, attractive countryside.
The river pictured was not as wide as the river I had drawn. But it was just as brown.
I pointed this out, saying, ``But it isn't blue. It's brown.'' I imagine -- though I cannot remember -- that the argument raged awhile in the manner of USENET; and I cannot remember its conclusion, if any was reached. The river in my picture remained brown, of course -- what is drawn in wax crayon cannot be undrawn, at least not without solvents of a type prohibited to primary school children -- and my opinion of the colour of rivers remains unchanged to this day.
There's a moral here, but I'll leave it to you to decide what it is.
I have received a quite useful response from Brian Simpson of the Patent Office about reverse-engineering and the legal status of technical protection measures. See this earlier post and an email to the CDR list for more background.
Brian Simpson writes,
I am pleased that I was able to clarify the basic position as regards the reverse engineering exception of the computer programs Directive (91/250/EEC).
The interaction between this exception and legal protection for TPMs when the copyright work protected is other than a computer program is not specifically dealt with in Directive 2001/29 [the copyright Directive] and we cannot, therefore, deal with the issue when implementing the Directive. The difficulty arises from the European Commission's insistence during negotiations on the copyright Directive that the existing regime for protection of TPMs applied to computer programs should remain intact and therefore different from that for all other types of protected copyright work. As you know, Article 6 of Directive 2001/29 covers all works except computer programs. I understand that representations from the software industry (primarily that Directive 91/250 was working well and should therefore remain unchanged) persuaded the Commission to adopt this line.
I am sorry that I cannot be more helpful but, as the Directive is silent on this particular matter, it will be ultimately for the courts to determine how the respective provisions in the two Directives (as implemented) should be interpreted if they are apparently in conflict in a particular case. However, as TPMs are used by creators of files to prevent infringements such as unauthorised copying, it is important to distinguish between such acts and the mere reading of a file on a PC using alternative operating software by a lawful user.
-- so, this answers the question about the `Microsoft Word problem': the UK implementation of the Directive can't address the issue. The last sentence is, to my mind, wishful thinking, since the serious failing of Article 6 of the Directive is that it doesn't distinguish between lawful and unlawful uses of material protected by a TPM.
(Oh, and a token piece of information. Each EU Directive has an identifying number, like 91/250/EEC or 2001/29/EC. I'm not really sure how these numbers are assigned -- clearly one number is a year and the other some kind of serial number, but why the two appear in different orders in the two examples above I don't know, and whether the letters at the end have any significance beyond being the initials of whichever EU incarnation was current at the time the Directive was written, but it looks like you can retrieve them from the monumental and poorly-designed EU `Europa' web site, by constructing a URL like this, where YEAR is the four-digit year of the Directive, and NUMBER the serial number thingy:
This might be helpful to anyone else trying to extract copies of Directives from the EU.)
As ever, I turned on Any Questions today in the full expectation that it would annoy and patronise me. Sometimes even my expectations aren't met: everyone involved was intensely and gratifyingly angry about the latest sordid and unhappy machinations of our government. Worth a listen.
I got a useful response from Brian Simpson at the Patent Office over the Copyright Directive and the `Microsoft Word problem' (see my previous entry on this topic). It doesn't quite answer the question, but we're making some progress. I've summarised in this email message on the CDR list. The brief summary:
To start with, circumventing a TPM is not `an act restricted by copyright' -- I was wrong there. So s.50B of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act doesn't stop you from reverse-engineering a TPM system for the purposes of interoperability. Further, recital 50 of the Copyright Directive protects the right to reverse-engineer even in the face of TPMs.
But some confusion remains. Brian Simpson maintains that a program designed to interoperate with the DRM in a future version of Microsoft Word would be subject only to the s.296 provisions of the new implementation, which are relatively lax (search for `296' in Annex A of the Patent Office consultation paper): (emphasis mine)
The person issuing the copies to the public has the same rights against a person who, knowing or having reason to believe that it will be used to make infringing copies [ produces or describes a circumvention device ] as a copyright owner has in respect of an infringement of copyright.
in that they only apply in the case of a `circumvention device' intended to be used to make copies of a program protected by a TPM, which obviously wouldn't affect, say, Open Office.
However, I don't think that this actually applies in this case, since the TPM we're talking about is applied by Microsoft Word to saved .doc files, not to Microsoft Word itself. (Microsoft may add TPMs to protect Word, but they're not germane here.)
Anyway, I've written again to Brian Simpson, asking,
But in this scenario, although the TPM is implemented by a computer program, it protects not the program but the data processed by the program; in particular, documents saved by the word-processor. (The idea being that the author of a document relies on the TPM to prevent unauthorised use or distribution of their work.)
An interoperable program must be able to `circumvent' the technological measure in order to read and write the files. Since it is not the computer program but rather the text of documents that is being protected by the TPM, surely it is the much stronger provisions of s.296ZB that apply to the interoperable program, rather than those of s.296?
More here when he responds.
Only 44 responses to my political survey so far -- I need more than that if the statistics are to mean anything. So get clicking!
The politicalcompass.org political survey site goes through phases of popularity. Unfortunately, the politicalcompass people don't explain their methods and they have attracted considerable suspicion, mostly regarding what some see as a `libertarian' agenda. Of course, their failure to explain their methods and data leaves them entirely open to any amount of criticism.
I want to have a go at doing this properly. That means assembling a set of questions, and then analysing the results statistically once enough data have been gathered to do this meaningfully. As you can probably guess, I'm about to ask you to do some work for me without any immediate reward.
The survey is at http://politics.beasts.org/scripts/survey; it consists at present of 64 statements to which you respond on a simple disagree strongly / disagree / no opinion / agree / agree strongly scale. (Actually, for calibration purposes, slightly more than 64 statements will be put to you.) The survey will take about five minutes of your time.
Unfortunately we don't yet have enough data to give meaningful results, so once you complete the survey you won't get any immediate feedback. But you can bookmark the results page you reach, and check back later when there's enough data to compile useful results.
I'd be very interested to hear any feedback, in particular if you think that there's an area of opinion which the questions don't address. A name better than `Political Survey' would be good, too. (I heard somebody on the radio talking about the notion of a `political GPS', but I think that's probably too geeky to use as a name.)
A little while ago I wrote to Patricia Hewitt about the European Copyright Directive, the UK implementation of which is apparently nearing completion. The point here is that the record industry and their venal minions have undoubtedly been lobbying like billy-oh to make the UK implementation more amenable to their interests than the draft -- if that's even possible....
Probably the worst consequence of the EUCD for computer users is the `Microsoft Word problem'. The threat here is that, if Microsoft incorporates digital rights management into Microsoft Word (and their other software in the `productivity' sector), then reverse-engineering the file format so as to write an interoperable word processor which can read the DRM-protected .doc files is prohibited under article 6 of the Copyright Directive, since that second word processor would be a `circumvention device'.
We are told that Microsoft proposes to do exactly this.
(Obviously from a commercial perspective this is very sensible: when the State hands you a guaranteed legal means to protect your monopoly, grab it with both hands while kissing the arse that gave it you. Many other manufacturers of diverse products including LASER-printer toner cartridges and garage door openers have already used the DMCA to suppress legitimate reverse-engineered competition.)
In the UK, decompilation of software for interoperability is explicitly permitted by section 50B of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act (1988) if it is necessary to produce an interoperable program; there's a useful discussion here which explains the restrictions better than the legislation itself does. Unfortunately one of those restrictions is that the lawful user doing the decompilation may not: (emphasis mine)
(d) uses the information to create a program which is substantially similar in its expression to the program decompiled or to do any act restricted by copyright.
Circumventing a DRM system is an `act restricted by copyright', presumably.
So, on to my letter to Patricia Hewitt. I outlined the `Microsoft Word problem', and stated that,
It was not the intention of the Commission to stifle competition in this manner, but a poor implementation of the Directive will, sadly, have that effect. It is therefore extremely important that the reverse-engineering exemption is maintained and strengthened in the UK implementation of the Directive.
To this I received -- with admirable promptness -- a letter from Brian Simpson of the Patent Office, who states, (again, emphasis mine)
As you have raised the matter again in your letter to the Secretary of State, I would add specifically that neither the Directive nor our proposed implementation is intended to affect the existing exception to copyright which, in specified circumstances, allows reverse engineering in order to achieve interoperability between computer programs.
Superficially, this looks good. But, because of the `acts restricted by copyright' limitation on decompilation, the existing restrictions on decompilation appear to protect Microsoft and like-minded companies from any danger of competition, if they incorporate DRM into their products, just like in the United States. So, no good news there. (Of course, I have no expertise in reading and interpreting legislation, so I may be wrong in the above. I'll write to Brian Simpson for confirmation.)
On Wednesday I was filmed by the BBC to appear on yesterday's BBC Three News, talking about music piracy. (If you're quick, you can see the programme, but that link will only last one day.) I don't even own a television and have never appeared on TV before, so this was quite novel. In the web log tradition of shameless self-publicity, I'll tell you all about it....
The background to the story is that the British Phonographic Industry have produced another report about the extent of commercial copying of CDs -- they claim that a billion counterfeit CDs were distributed last year. (This area is a statistical minefield; for instance, the BPI's report has a big whinge about people copying music onto recordable CDs, but of course they have no way of knowing how many of the CD-Rs sold are used to make copies of music CDs. So they pluck a number out of thin air -- 60% -- and then say, in effect, that every CD-R sold results in a loss of 0.6 × the cost of a CD album. Figures like these are nonsense, but get wide coverage anyway.) BBC Three wanted to do a story on this and I wound up in the rôle of Campaign for Digital Rights spokesperson.
I appear on the programme for only a few seconds, but it took about an hour and a half to get the footage (of which probably about ten minutes was actually filming). Filming took place in the Fopp record shop in Cambridge, to set the right scene for the story. (The manager of Fopp gave permission for us to film, though he asked that a Fopp logo appear in shot somewhere. I don't think one did, which I suppose represents a small victory for licence-fee payers. He also had to 'phone Mission Control in Glasgow to confirm that we could film -- so much for the independent record store....)
Getting ten seconds of film involved me standing in front of the camera answering a few minutes of questions put to me from off-camera by BBC journalist Keith Miller. This was a bit disconcerting, partly because I was too dim to realise that the viewers wouldn't hear the questions being asked me until I'd been told this several times. Keith had a set of questions, starting with `how did the record companies get into this mess' and moving on to `what can they do about it'. I'd been worried about this being a more formal interview in which I'd have to make involved statements justifying my position, but in fact all that was required was a soundbite, which I think I supplied adequately without too much umm-ing and err-ing:
In India a CD, a chart CD costs three pounds; in Hong Kong it costs five or six pounds. The record companies are trying to charge what the market will bear, and the market won't bear it any more.
-- which is roughly the statement I set out to make.
After filming the BBC guys got a taxi back to the station, and gave me a lift to where I was having lunch. The taxi driver, having asked what story they'd been reporting, launched into a long rant about how CDs are too expensive, and singing the virtues of Napster, Kazaa and CD-R. Most of the music available on file-sharing networks was, he said, modern crap that he didn't like; instead he copied his friends' CDs. Two thirds of his CD collection was copied. He'd got the recent Oasis album from the internet though, and told us that he wasn't too worried about the personal wealth of the brothers Gallagher.
Now, it's important to point out that all of that is copyright infringement, and is therefore Bad and Wrong. But arguably, he might have made a more effective TV spokesperson than I did....
(End of shameless self-publicity. Well, excluding the rest of my web log, anyway.)
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