Fact checking Andrew Potter's Maclean's commentary on Quebec

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Fact checking Andrew Potter's Maclean's commentary on Quebec

Ted Strauss
Hello Civic-Access,

As a long-time Quebec resident and someone with close ties to McGill University, I was offended by Andrew Potter's commentary last week. Much has been made in the media -and even by Potter himself- about his use of anecdotal evidence and cherry picking of data. Yet I have not seen any attempts to check the stats that he cited in support of his inflammatory claims. 

I spent the weekend looking into this, and want to share my findings with you. Below are two links to a set of slides providing summary graphs over a number of variables in the General Social Survey data collected by StatsCan in 2013. While the data on volunteerism are broadly consistent with Potter's claim, all the other measures paint a picture of complex regional variations across the country. 

Graphing Trends in SOCIAL CAPITAL in Canada

Graphing Trends in PERCEPTION OF POLICE in Canada

The important point that I have not yet heard in the ensuing reactions to Potter's resignation is this: In an era alarmingly described as post truth, when science and intellectualism are under frequent attack, the importance of maintaining the highest standards in the use of data for social commentary cannot be overstated. Potter's article was a classic case of misuse of data to make inflammatory claims, and it's no wonder people don't trust the intellectual class. His failure in his duties as an academic are the reason why his resignation is warranted, and in this case it overrides the concern about academic freedom.

Ted Strauss

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