If you’re subscribed to the White Coat Waste Project’s social media feeds (and we assume you aren’t) you would have just witnessed several weeks of celebration. The anti-animal research group has been tweeting, posting and taking credit on a near-daily basis for the USDA’s decision to close down a key research unit studying one of the most common and dangerous food parasites in the world. That research core – an international leader in combating Toxoplasmosis – was recently described as “an incredible resource” by one Johns Hopkins infectious disease expert. Another scientist theorized that closing down the lab may actually increase the number of felines involved in this important research area. This could become the case because the USDA’s lab supported several other research efforts worldwide, preventing the need for duplicative efforts. With that very real possibility in mind, it’s hard to understand why White Coat Waste (WCW) is so pleased.
Some may also wonder what the anti-animal research group has planned next. They dropped a pretty big clue this week when they decided to “poll” their supporters. Those quotation marks are pretty well deserved. Why? Because anyone who knows anything about surveys can spot WCW’s push poll a mile away.
What’s a push poll?
A few definitions we found online:
push poll (From Google’s dictionary)
an ostensible opinion poll in which the true objective is to sway voters using loaded or manipulative questions.
Another from Wikipedia:
A push poll is an interactive marketing technique, most commonly employed during political campaigning, in which an individual or organization attempts to manipulate or alter prospective voters’ views/beliefs under the guise of conducting an opinion poll. In a push poll, large numbers of voters are contacted with little effort made to actually collect and analyze voters’ response data. Instead, the push poll is a form of telemarketing-based propaganda and rumor mongering, masquerading as an opinion poll.
And from the New York Times:
“Push polls” — which are not really polls at all — are often criticized as a particularly sleazy form of negative political campaigning….
…The questions are skewed to one side of an issue or candidate, the goal being to sway large numbers of voters under the guise of survey.”
Because push polling is so dishonest and manipulative, it’s been pretty widely condemned. The American Association for Public Opinion Research, the American Association of Political Consultants, the Council for Marketing and Opinion Research and the National Council on Public Polls have all denounced the practice.
Before we look more closely at the WCW survey, here are some of the specific characteristics of a push poll. According to the Poynter Institute they:
- Often ask very few questions.
- Tend to focus on a single candidate or issue.
- Usually pose questions that are strongly negative (or sometimes uniformly positive).
- Do not ask for demographic information.
- Usually [poll] very large numbers of people.
- Do not use random samples.
- Rarely, if ever, report results.
White Coat Waste Project’s “Poll”
With that in mind, here are WCW’s “poll” questions:
- Following WCW’s campaign (opposing all VA canine studies), the VA says adoption is an “ethical obligation.” However, the VA refuses to retire the “Cleveland 3” (three dogs) from its painful puppy labs. Should the VA allow taxpayers to adopt dog lab survivors?
- WCW recently defeated USDA’s kitten slaughterhouse. For 50 years, USDA slaughtered and incinerated healthy kittens like trash. Should all government cat labs follow USDA’s lead and retire cat survivors?
- The FDA locked 10-month-old monkeys in restraint chairs and forcibly addicted them to nicotine. We ended these experiments and retired the survivors to a sanctuary. Should the FDA’s remaining primate labs do the same?
- The federal government usually kills lab survivors instead of retiring them. Bureaucrats just simply can’t be bothered to adopt them out. As a taxpayer, you paid for these tests. So WCW launched the first-ever campaign to give all government lab survivors a second chance. How would you intensify WCW’s campaign to #GiveThemBack?
- Will you rush a one-time donation to help us adopt out even more survivors from government animal labs?
So when you consider Poyntner’s description of a push poll, WCW pretty much checks all the boxes:
- Few questions? Yes, four plus a fundraising plea.
- Single issue? Yup.
- Strongly negative? ”Painful,” “kitten slaughterhouse,” “incineration,” “like trash,” need we go on?
- No interest in demographic information? It’s a poll posted on Facebook, enough said.
- Very large numbers of respondents? Again, posted on Facebook. They don’t seem to care how many responses they get.
- Not a random sample? Polling your own supporters? Definitely not.
- They rarely, if ever, report results? We will have to wait and see.
WCW’s “Taxpayer Opinion Survey” of Facebook followers is about as pushy as it gets. This means that either A) White Coat Waste doesn’t respect its supporters very much or B) they feel that manipulative polls are ethical and acceptable.
One Small Side Note
Earlier, we listed several organizations that have thoroughly condemned surveys like this. One of those organizations is the American Association of Political Consultants (AAPC). The AAPC calls the practice of push polls “a clear violation of the AAPC’s Code of Ethics and a degradation of the political process.”
AAPC’s name sounded familiar to us. Here’s why. Anthony Bellotti, the president and founder of White Coat Waste, is one of AAPC’s stars. He was honored in 2017 by the organization as being one of their 40 under 40 winners. According to his LinkedIn page, he also previously served as AAPC’s Executive Director. Apparently, Bellotti believes that AAPC’s position on polling that violates their ethics standards and “degrades the political process” does not apply to his organization.
A Little More Balance
There is at least a partial solution to this problem. Someone could make WCW’s poll questions a little less leading and a lot more balanced.
Here’s what we think they should ask the American taxpayers they claim to care so much about:
- Do you understand how medical advancements occur and the role that animal research plays in this process?
- Do you agree that major decisions about health research should be based on scientific evidence and as free from personal ideologies and agendas as possible?
- Do you support the use of American tax dollars in the development of health innovations that reduce suffering?
- The United States is currently one of the world leaders in biotechnology and health research. Moving forward, should America greatly diminish its leadership role and become reliant on China and other nations that are increasing their own investments in animal research for medical developments and safety testing?
- Should animal research conducted in other countries, and whose findings inform health consequences in the US (drugs, interventions etc.), be used only if the original research conforms to similar or better ethical standards to those found in the US? If so, would you support the creation of an oversight committee which guarantees this and is paid for by American tax dollars? How would such a system be different from the current standards for funding and oversight in the US?
- Should the US limit its involvement to testing new drugs and therapies on nonhuman animals and instead test on American citizens prior to approval for use in the general public?
- An anti-animal research group is currently celebrating the closure of a worldwide-respected lab that studies one of the most common and dangerous food parasites. The research required the study of cats and their involvement was necessary for studies to continue. In addition, an expert panel decided that the animals involved in this research cannot be adopted out due to public health concerns. Are you familiar with this issue and did you feel fully informed when the decision to close the lab was made? Do you feel the decision was based on all the necessary facts or was this complex health issue overly influenced by special interest groups?
- Would you support increased communications and transparency from federal agencies when their research efforts are called into question so that members of the public and lawmakers can be more fully informed when forming and voicing their opinions?
- Lung cancer caused by smoking remains a major worldwide health threat. According to the World Health Organization, more than 2 million people died from the disease last year alone. Compounding the issue even further is the expanding use of e-cigarettes, especially by teenagers. The use of these devices pose additional health risks and data suggests they often lead to tobacco addiction. Given that nicotine is the addictive ingredient in both of these products, do you agree that studies in animals – including nonhuman primates – must continue to help provide better solutions for combatting this health crisis?
- While very rare (less than .05 percent of research in animals), studies using dogs have resulted in several critical research advancements that benefit humans and animals alike. These include the development of treatments to reduce the health impact of spinal cord injury, advances in cancer treatment, insulin for diabetes and hip replacements. And while moral considerations and the greater good require the continuation of these studies, research organizations are increasingly committed to adopting out dogs previously involved in research when possible. Do you support the use of federal funds for these adoptions?
- Are you familiar with the U.S. government’s efforts to retire chimpanzees formerly involved in health research? Do you support an estimated cost of $60 to $100 million or more over the chimpanzees’ lifetime? Would you support a much larger expenditure to retire many more animals involved in federally funded health research or should those funds instead be used to provide health care to Americans who are unable to afford it?