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LETTER

UA Survey Poorly Designed

I believe the UA’s decision to reject the ASA’s suggestions for the Student Center reading room [“UA Votes to Revamp Reading Room Area,” Dec. 3] was a poor one; but the survey they used to justify that decision was a travesty, with respect to the interests of science and honesty. It was a blatant example of a push poll -- that is, a survey designed to produce results supporting a particular point of view.

First off, the survey presents the UA’s position and gives the reasons why. It then says that there is an alternative proposal by the ASA, which the UA opposes. No justification for the alternative proposal is offered. This is an unabashed case of guiding the responses -- stamped with the bold claim, “To accurately reflect the view of MIT undergraduates, the UA has decided to conduct this survey.” This failure to elucidate the alternative proposal is the most egregious flaw of the survey. But hardly the only one.

The survey claims that the undergraduate responses will “decide the fate” of the reading room, completely ignoring the constituency of graduate students such as myself who also need and use study spaces and participate in MIT activities.

The questions themselves are designed to bolster the UA’s position and bias the respondents. One question asks students how much they would use the reading room if it were renovated. One of the options was “A lot less often.” Shockingly, no one picked that choice. The question merely serves to remind the respondent what the “right” course of action is.

Then the survey adds another issue, group study, muddying the waters even more. When the final question comes, allowing respondents to rank courses of action, it is not hard to guess how the chips will fall. The options are: a nonsense choice (“Do not renovate it”); three versions of the UA proposal, and the unsupported ASA proposal. So out of the five “choices” there actually are just two, with one choice being counted three times.

Anyone associated with the design or use of the survey should be ashamed. As a work of propaganda, it was great -- too bad the marketing industry is in a slump, or the responsible parties would know where to send a resume.


Bradford Johnson G