The first problem is the issue of bias; the survey at several points presupposes ("presupposition" is a linguistic term whose technical meaning is, roughly, "implicate" or "overtly assume") and asserts notions about homosexuality which are not established and which could influence subject's responses; these presuppositions and assertions will be discussed in rest of this paper, after this section.
The second problem is a graver one: the issue of the circumstances of the administration of the test. When dealing with stigmatized or controversial subjects, it has been shown time and time again that the best way to get true indications of what subject think is to ask them through anonymous written forms. The more a subject has to worry about issues of confidentiality and the more a subject has to interact with another person in the administration of the test questions, and the greater the status of the person or organization in question, the more likely survey subjects are to "tow the party line" (or to use another popular metaphor usually employed in elections, "hop on the bandwagon") instead of give their own opinion, resulting in survey findings which are grossly exaggerated in favor of what the subjects perceive as the mainstream position.
With this in mind, the methodological design of this Consultation Paper survey is almost a worst-case scenario in terms of the biases it introduces. The interview is conducted entirely verbally, maximizing interaction with the pollster. What's more, in the script that pollsters are given to read (see Appendix III, p. 1, "Introduction"), there is no assurance of confidentiality. More threateningly, the pollster explains his affiliation with the Hong Kong Government. If for no other reason at all, I personally would be very cautious in responding to a survey conducted by a government that will be absorbed, to some degree and in some fashion, by the People's Republic of China, the latter government not being, by any stretch of the imagination, known for progressive views on homosexuality or bisexuality, nor known for permitting or fostering wide ranges of public opinion on controversial social and political issues.
If I were a survey subject, unless I were assured that, say, my responses would be anonymous and that record of them would be destroyed immediately after the final tabulation (as is done in elections in many parts of the world), my immediate response would be to watch what I say, lest record of it be looked at with an unkind eye in uncertain years to come.
The primary error in this document is lack of clear wording; this survey presents the subject with concepts he is asked to offer opinions on. When the survey doesn't express a concept precisely, then what the subject is reacting to could be something quite different from what the survey writers intended.
Question 1. Have you heard about ... [het./homo./bisexuality]?Use of the preposition "about" here (as opposed to the more expected "of") form carries the strange implication that the speaker has something in mind relating to the topic he's naming, which he's presupposing that the hearer is familiar with. Compare this "of" example:
--Have you heard of Jake Salopec?with this "about" example:
--No, who is he?
--Have you heard about Jake Salopec? (meaning: I assume you know who this person is. Do you know about the recent salient item of news about him?)The reader should note that a simple "no" does not convey disagreement with the presupposition of familiarity with the subject named. A simple "no" has this effect:
--I don't even know who he is. (your presupposition that I know who he is, is false.
--Have you heard about Clinton? (We have shared knowledge about who Clinton is. Do you know about the recent salient item of news is about him?)or
--No. (I do not know the salient news item; but the fact that I say I don't cooperates with your presupposition that I know who Clinton is.)
--Oh that bill he signed; yes, it's awful!! (I know who he is, and I believe I know what item of news you're referring to.)Ergo, asking "have you heard about" homosexuality implies that there is some salient item of news, which is a nearly nonsensical concept; who can imagine an item of news can be predicated of a sexual orientation common to vast segments of Earth's population, as in:
--Have you heard about heterosexuality?So, no possible "yes"/"no" response (which is all the blanks allow) to that question "have you heard about homosexuality?" can express the idea "I don't know what that is" (much less "I'm not sure we mean the same thing by it"), because knowing what the x is in "have you heard about x" is presupposed, and isn't negated by a simple "yes" or "no".
--No, what. (I.e., I know what heterosexuality refers to, but I don't know what news item there is about it.)
--They've just proved it's caused by zucchini!! (or whatever)
This means that because of this imprecise wording on the part of the survey writers, the survey, in this question, will not accurately elicit the responses that the survey writers intended (i.e., "yes, I know what that refers to", or "no, I don't"). Thus, the statistics for this are not a reliable indicator of the true number of people who believe they know what the word "homosexuality" (&ct.) refers to.
This imprecision in wording of the questions, as well as the failure to consider the possible meanings of the answers (as with these "unanswerable" questions) is, in my estimation, the greatest source of uncontrolled variables in this survey, and this is illustrated perfectly in this first question.
I focus on this first question because this is the question that, if better worded, should be used to separate those who know what homosexuality and bisexuality are (or who report that they do, at least) from those who don't; that these groups should be analyzed separately is obvious-- people who've never heard of a given issue can't have opinions, only reactions.
By failing to separate (or throw out) subjects who are not familiar with the terms "homosexuality", "bisexuality", and "heterosexuality", the survey introduces a significant uncontrolled variable into the results; i.e., what the reactions are of people who do not have a clear conception of what sexual orientation is. Judging from Table One in Equal Opportunities[...], this group is at least 25% of the sample.
Now, in the case where the subject has a concept of all these sexual orientations, but where they differ from the survey writers' (e.g., in conflating transvestism with homosexuality, say), again a significant uncontrolled variable is then introduced, namely the variable of whether the subject is using own his definition of the word (which he has not been instructed to refrain from doing), or whether he's accommodating (i.e., using for the time being) the survey writers' definition which is given to him.
The only case in which question 1 does not introduce (or fail to screen) a uncontrolled variable is if the speaker has already has the same conception of sexual orientation it as the survey writers -- in which case question 1 is superfluous at least.
In syntactic terms, the predicate "acceptable" lacks an overt experiencer; in practical terms, this means that it's not clear who homosexuality/bisexuality are supposed to be acceptable to. In one reading, the subject is being asked if he accepts homosexuality/bisexuality (of course, this concept "accept" is hopelessly vague); in another reading, the subject is being asked if he considers society to accept homosexuality/bisexuality (which has no clear bearing on his own opinions). The two are enormously distinct concepts. By failing to clarify which is being queried here, the report introduces the uncontrolled variable of which interpretation the subject will make of this question.
The survey findings claim that the public considers homosexuality and bisexuality to be "unacceptable", (3.4 on the scale of 0 (total disagreement with its acceptability) to 10 (total agreement with its acceptability)), but because the survey does not specify who's doing the "accept[ing]", this may or may not measure subjects' personal opinions. (In sociological terms, this question is ambiguous between measuring personal opinions versus social cognition.)
"Normal" is a uselessly vague word. One reading is "most common"; another is "not wrong" (whatever that means). Both readings are possible for sentence, and this ambiguity is an uncontrolled variable. The observation that the sample agree (mean = 8.7, where 10 is total agreement) is entirely inconclusive; what portion of the sample strongly agreed, but agreed with the reading of heterosexuality being the most common (which is, vacuously true).
"Personal choice" has two readings: a choice oneself has made (as opposed to a choice made by others, or most simply an event that involved no human choice),or a choice that is in the personal domain, i.e., is not open to public examination or questioning. E.g.:
Congressman Phillips' resignation was a personal choice.This can mean that he wasn't forced from office, (which is not very informative, since it nearly takes an act of God to force an American Congressman from office); but I'd generally assume it to mean that it was motivated by aspects of his private life which are not the business of the press, his constituents, or anyone he doesn't personally tell. (E.g., he's devastated by his recent divorce, or he has to look after his dying mother, or whatever).
Again, both readings are possible for this sentence in Question 2, and when the speaker responds either yes or no, we have no way of knowing which reading he's responding to.
"homosexual/bisexual behavior" is a hopelessly vague phrase. Does it mean "any kind of behavior (i.e., conscious actions), by homosexual/bisexuals?" Or does it mean behavior by homosexuals/bisexuals which is characteristically homosexual/bisexual? (and what does this evoke? Dressing tastefully? Partying in Ibiza? Wild sex on rooftops, with spotlights?) American sociologists use the term "homosexual behavior" to refer to same-sex sexual contact, as opposed to homosexual identification and/or orientation. The achievement of the Kinsey Report 50 years ago was in the discovery that there is a whopping distinction to be made between these concepts, because they involve different groups of people, and different numbers of people.
(The phrase "bisexual behavior" reminds me of my friend James who once told me once he wanted to have a bisexual experience. I asked what he meant, and he said, quite seriously, that he meant having sex with two women at once. I had to admit that this was a conceivable reading of the phrase "bisexual experience", and it is an illustration of just how multiple readings are possible of phrases with no intended ambiguity.)
Now, what does the word "affect" mean? Because humans live in contact with other humans, most if not all actions affect other people. With this reading, a "no" answer is almost impossible. So, does one then always say "yes", or does one suppose that the speaker couldn't have meant "affect" in that sense, but must have meant "especially affect" -- and what does that mean? For example, straight women occasionally fall for men, only to find they're gay and not open to pursuing a relationship. Does this count as him "affect[ing]" her? Or does one have to have to stop traffic to be counted as "affecting" people?
I've established that "behavior" is vague in this context. What is troubling here is the presupposition that homosexuals/bisexuals are distinct from "ordinary people". It is a basic element of survey design that one must eliminate all unnecessary presuppositions (by deleting them, or by rephrasing them as assertions) in order to get an clear reading of the subjects' opinions. A survey which overtly presupposes that homosexuals and bisexuals cannot be "ordinary people" is no less biased than a survey which asks for subjects' opinions on "the corrupt puppet-imperialist so-called 'government' of South Korea" or the like.
This question fails to specify the role that the gay or lesbian in question would have in the "using" of the reproductive technology. I can easily imagine a good segment of the sample subjects objecting to a lesbian raising a child, but it's hard to imagine anyone objecting if a lesbian were the surrogate mother, carrying to term another woman's fetus.
It would be authentically interesting to see public reactions to gays, lesbians, and bisexuals (who are left out in this question) playing various roles in reproductive technology. However, this question fails to distinguish the very different possible roles; it also fails to see what the subject think the limits and possibilities of reproductive technology are -- an important issue, considering the historically recent development of that technology.
This is syntactically ambiguous between two lesbians getting married to eachother (which is not legal in Hong Kong or any Asian country) as opposed to two lesbians getting married to other people (which is quite common in societies which do not accept homosexuality as a viable lifestyle.
The survey tells the subject that "heterosexuality" refers to the phenomenon of being attracted to people of the opposite sex, "homosexuality" to people of the same sex, and "bisexuality" to both. One can be attracted to the opposite sex without being heterosexual; the issue is whether one is primarily attracted to the opposite sex.
In fact, even just adding the "primarily" in doesn't resolve the problems with the definition of homosexuality/heterosexuality which the survey presupposes and, in fact, explains to the survey subjects (see p. 3 of the questionnaire).
The second of the implicit problems with this survey is the strong misconceived presupposition it gives the subjects that they do not already know a great number of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. This is seen most strongly in survey questions 3, 4, and 5, which ask whether the subject "would mind or wouldn't mind" a number of activities in the company of homosexuals or bisexuals. The use of the conditional tense here gives a very strong "contrary-to-fact" reading to the actions listed, implicating that the subject does not already see movies with homosexuals and/or bisexuals, dine out with them, etc. This is the most widespread public misconception about homosexuals, and in some ways is primary to all others: it is the misconception that the average person does not know any gays, lesbians, or bisexuals.
The established distribution of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals through the populace ensures that almost everyone knows one. I believe it would be extremely illustrative to measure the extent of this misconception of "not knowing any of them": it would simply entail asking "Do you know [are friends with, are related to, do you work with, etc.] a gay, lesbian, or bisexual?" But this survey, oddly, does not do this.
It is a basic question whether survey subjects who harbor the misconception that they do not know any gays, lesbians, or bisexuals are fit to be answering a survey about them. This survey makes no attempt to weed out such subjects. Instead, it feeds just this misconception, via the wording of Question 3, 4, and 5 especially.