Shoddy workmanship presented as truth

Headlines in the media today: almost half of all Dutch priests are in favour of abolishing celibacy! “Shoddy work” the spokesman of the Bishops’ Conference declares, and he is right.

Let’s look at the numbers. More than 700 priests received a questionnaire from television program Altijd Wat. 135 priests sent their answers to the questions back. That is some 19%. Of these 135, 39% (some 50) are in favour of maintaining the celibacy rule, and a further 21% (some 30) are neutral about it. The remaining 40% (54 priests) said they are in favour of abolishing mandatory celibacy.

The conclusion that a significant number of the priests in the Netherlands want to get rid of mandatory celibacy for priests is frankly silly. Out of more than 800 priests working in society, a mere 54 said they are for abolishing celibacy. That is less than 7%. Not even close to a majority.

This opinion poll is invalidated by the small number of replies. In order to get anything approaching a representative estimate, you need a higher response rate than 17%.

On the other hand, this opinion poll is also no evidence that the Dutch priesthood is mostly in favour of celibacy. It proves neither one or the other. But it does trigger headlines, pretending they offer anything similar to the truth, when they quite frankly don’t.

2 thoughts on “Shoddy workmanship presented as truth”

  1. Hi InCaelo,

    Of course this is yet another opportunity for some media politics, but even if the sample size is low (11% of all Dutch priests) it’s just enough to give some indication of the distribution in the population (which is only 1100) with an acceptable margin of error, an example is value of pre-election polls. How large a percentage do you need to give some indication with acceptable marging of error? For me it’s certainly below 17%!

    The main problem here as I see it is not so much the statistics – but the employed methodology, the way the questions are asked and responder bias.

    More about this

    ps. Could you also answer my previous mails and tweets?

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