On Sunday, August 1st, The New York Times (NYT) published “Who Are the Unvaccinated in America? There’s No One Answer.” The article did not discuss the data-gathering methods for conclusions it drew—digging revealed it was from random phone calls, a questionable method in the age when people rarely answer unidentified calls.
Over 3,300 words, the article was adorned with photographic portraits of everyday Americans, and easy-to-understand bar charts. It theorized there are two groups of unvaccinated Americans—those vehemently opposed and those still deciding.
Conclusions were drawn from a Kaiser Family Foundation’s “ongoing research project tracking the public’s attitudes and experiences with COVID-19 vaccinations.”
Among the observations in the article were:
- An estimated 93 million people who are eligible for shots have chosen not to get them.
- Those who are adamant in their refusal of the coronavirus vaccines tend to be disproportionately white, rural, evangelical Christian, and politically conservative.
- Interviews of the unvaccinated in the United States found people “driven by a wide mix of sometimes overlapping fears, conspiracy theories, concern about safety and generalized skepticism of powerful institutions tied to the vaccines, including the pharmaceutical industry and the federal government.”
- We live in an era “stymied by the forces of misinformation that undermine the true knowledge that is out there.”
So, how was the Kaiser Family Foundation’s (KFF) data collected?
They made phone calls.
Between May 18 and May 25, 2021, KFF telephoned 1,526 adults ages 18 and older. Researchers made all sorts of procedural adjustments to ensure the sample included a percentage of participants from prescribed race/ethnicity subgroups.
Not all phone calls were random—296 of those surveyed were called because they had previously completed interviews. “To efficiently obtain a sample of lower-income and non-White respondents, the sample also included an oversample of prepaid (pay-as-you-go) telephone numbers.”
It’s 2021—phone data collection is a problem.
Why? Because people don’t much care to answer their phones if they don’t know who’s on the other end.
Hiya is a Seattle-based company which “protects over 50 million users from unwanted Robo and spam calls globally.” The company released data based on a subset of 11 billion calls analyzed monthly. They found that only 52 percent of all calls Americans received on their phones are answered. When the call comes from an unidentified number, 76 percent of the calls go unanswered.
In July, 2020, a Pew Research Center web survey of 10,211 American adults revealed only 19 percent generally answer cell phone calls from unknown callers.
Hiya says 76 percent of calls from an unidentified number are not answered; Pew says only 19 percent of calls from unfamiliar numbers are answered.
The New York Times is influencing its readers with information derived from phone interviews. It should have alerted them that when they were randomly seeking participants, most people did not pick up.
As an aside, in the same edition of the NYT, there was an opinion piece by Maureen Dowd, titled “Why Do Republicans Hate Cops?”
No one could ever charge that the NYT is not consistent in its bias.