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Whitehouse.gov has been redesigned with petitions! - Comments

Jay G's Avatar Comment 1 by Jay G

I've heard about this. There's a petition going around the Jewish Community over here to put pressure on the Justice Dept and the Courts to reconsider a high-profile case involving an Orthodox Jewish man who received a 27 year sentence recently for bank fraud.

Fri, 23 Sep 2011 18:33:23 UTC | #874503

Chris Boccia's Avatar Comment 2 by Chris Boccia

Just signed all three.

Fri, 23 Sep 2011 18:37:52 UTC | #874508

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 3 by Jos Gibbons

Is it limited to US citizens?

Fri, 23 Sep 2011 18:46:54 UTC | #874510

Chris Boccia's Avatar Comment 4 by Chris Boccia

I'm pretty sure it is.

Fri, 23 Sep 2011 18:55:55 UTC | #874513

Sample's Avatar Comment 5 by Sample

It sounds great at first, and perhaps there will be some good but...

I'm a little wary of ballot box initiatives for topics sometimes better suited to elected/hired experts namely, anything scientific.

In Alaska we once had, not too long ago, what was finally called "ballot box biology" and it was awful if you were a scientist, a non human animal or the environment. Lay public should not be voting on ecological matters. Better to vote or hire the experts in the respective field to make policy which then accountable to the public should things go wrong.

I'm afraid that this is going to be used politically for stump speeches and State of the Union Addresses rather than being discerned in a methodical manner devoid of personal gain--depending on the issue of course.

Mike

Fri, 23 Sep 2011 19:05:48 UTC | #874516

hypnoticbob's Avatar Comment 6 by hypnoticbob

Are any others having issues communicating with the secure WWWS sub-domain?

Fri, 23 Sep 2011 20:22:52 UTC | #874556

Steven Mading's Avatar Comment 7 by Steven Mading

As anyone who's ever payed attention to the actions of PZ Myers' blog followers knows, NO accurate conclusions of public opinion can ever be drawn from online polling, and an online petition shares some of the same problems as online polling. (PZ Myers often instructs his blog followers to ruin online polls by "stuffing" them with votes from his large population of readers that skew the results. PZ's goal is not to sneak those bogus results into the final report the pollsters make, but to make the result so obviosly broken that the pollsters know they have to throw the results away. Getting them to abandon online polling is the goal.)

I don't necessarily like the method PZ uses to drill the point home to the pollsters, but is very effective at demonstrating the problem.

There are three methods that can be used to skew the results, and none of them involve any hacking skills to break into the site and change results - just basic users can do these:

method 1: The same person re-voting under the same ID (often the anti-double-voting scheme of the poll site uses something as unrelilable as just trusting that the user won't clear their browser cookies).

method 2: Generate multiple accounts for yourself, which is easy to do online with the plethora of available free e-mail account services and most places merely asking for an e-mail address when you create a new account.

method 3: Uneven advertising of the existence of the poll. If the poll would normally have been only answered by about 500-1000 people or so, and all of a sudden PZ gets several thousand of his blog followers to answer the poll by advertising it to them, the mere un-evenness of who knows about the poll's existence is still a large a skewing factor even if everyone who participates only votes once like they're supposed to. Often PZ's poll-smashers simply outnumber the other respondants and skew the results with method 3.

Online petitions are not quite as bad because the factor of uneven advertising (method 3) isn't an issue (the goal of a petition is not to compare "yeahs" to "nays" like in a poll, but merely to show there exist many people who support for the petition.). But the other two methods are still problems. An online petition is much easier to 'stuff' with bogus signatures than an old-fashioned door-to-door paper petition.

Unless and until some method of reliable online identity becomes the norm, online petetions should never be taken seriously by anyone.

Fri, 23 Sep 2011 20:59:28 UTC | #874571

mirandaceleste's Avatar Comment 8 by mirandaceleste

From the OP:

I think this is how our government should have been working a long time ago.

I strongly disagree. We don't live in a direct democracy. We live in a representative democracy, which the Constitutional framers wisely put in place in order to prevent the "tyranny of the majority". The highly problematic (to say the very least) system of ballot initiatives/referendums that many states currently have is the prime example of why direct democracy can be (and often has been) quite harmful and dangerous. Ultimately, petitions like these are probably completely pointless/futile and are a step in the wrong direction.

ETA: Just FYI: If you do want to sign them, you can't get there by pasting in the links in the OP (for security reasons). You have to clean the address up a bit. For example, here's a working version of the first one: http://www.whitehouse.gov/petitions/%21/petition/remove-tax-exemption-churches-and-allow-them-apply-non-profit-organization/Jbm5cr22.

Fri, 23 Sep 2011 21:08:23 UTC | #874580

InYourFaceNewYorker's Avatar Comment 9 by InYourFaceNewYorker

Here are some I added:

Tax the Rich: http://wh.gov/gHF Death With Dignity: http://wh.gov/gHA

Fri, 23 Sep 2011 23:05:22 UTC | #874616

mjs31's Avatar Comment 10 by mjs31

Signed, thanks for the heads up.

Sat, 24 Sep 2011 01:33:24 UTC | #874654

paulmcuk's Avatar Comment 11 by paulmcuk

Comment 8 by mirandaceleste :

From the OP:

I think this is how our government should have been working a long time ago.

I strongly disagree. We don't live in a direct democracy. We live in a representative democracy, which the Constitutional framers wisely put in place in order to prevent the "tyranny of the majority". The highly problematic (to say the very least) system of ballot initiatives/referendums that many states currently have is the prime example of why direct democracy can be (and often has been) quite harmful and dangerous. Ultimately, petitions like these are probably completely pointless/futile and are a step in the wrong direction.

It was a wheeze of the latest UK government that any petition (via it's website) that garnered 100,000 "signatures" would be considered (note, considered) as an issue for debate in parliament. First subject to reach 100,000 - the reintroduction of the death penalty.

Point being that initiatives like this can be easily hijacked by interest groups to get their own pet issues higher up the political ladder than they deserve to be. I can imagine the religious right in the US could have a field day with this, adept as they are at mobilising their support.

Under the previous government in the UK, petitions merely earned an official government response (and presumably still do for those under 100,000). I once had the job of preparing such responses on behalf of the government department I worked for and generally they would simply be the standard line. They rarely achieved anything beyond the fact that the matter would be brought to the attention of the relevant Minister when he/she had to sign the letter I'd drafted. Never did a Minister send the letter back saying that we should DO something about the issue rather than just spout platitudes.

Sat, 24 Sep 2011 08:48:09 UTC | #874685

aquilacane's Avatar Comment 12 by aquilacane

Comment 3 by Jos Gibbons

Is it limited to US citizens?

Have you ever known the US to give a shit about what people say from outside the US?

Sat, 24 Sep 2011 12:48:01 UTC | #874723

Scoundrel's Avatar Comment 13 by Scoundrel

There's probably other petitions saying the same but opposite, with a lot more signatures from sheeple. If not it wont be long right?

Sat, 24 Sep 2011 15:28:59 UTC | #874749

Red Dog's Avatar Comment 14 by Red Dog

I will sign the petitions but I don't think they have any chance at all to become law, not even to bring something to a vote in congress. Virtually all American politicians are too paranoid of alienating the theists.

What's more I think these kinds of efforts that are just for show are a waste of time and not the kind of thing Brights should be focusing on. Things we should be focusing on:

  • Get the US and the world to start really addressing global climate change

  • Put effort to improve the abysmal education system in the US especially with math and science

  • Slash the US "Defense" budget and use that money for infrastructure, R&D, and other things that actually benefit people

  • Sat, 24 Sep 2011 17:18:04 UTC | #874770

    wcapehart's Avatar Comment 16 by wcapehart

    Comment 11 by paulmcuk :

    It was a wheeze of the latest UK government that any petition (via it's website) that garnered 100,000 "signatures" would be considered (note, considered) as an issue for debate in parliament. First subject to reach 100,000 - the reintroduction of the death penalty.

    And how, out of curiosity, was it received? Dude, finish the story! :- )Did they take the debate matter seriously or was it dismissed as not being an "authentic" request?

    Regarding the WH.gov gimmick, color me cynical as usual but:

    The press office in the Whitehouse will cite the petitions it likes and blow off and maybe even delete those it doesn't (deleting the ones it really doesn't like). Just because he's Obamalicious and we are supposed to love him doesn't mean we should buy into the window dressing. Also, the president can propose but congress disposes. True legislation begins at congress and since the lower house is very hostile to the administration, you especially need to be making the case there first. And since they are so often 180 against us as atheists, we have to make our arguments while walking up hill against water which means that we actually have to make careful arguments that identify our key issues with the approraite "Republican Values" something that at the least, to mix even more metaphors, is dressed in overalls and looks like serious work on our part. (Calling them tea baggers and nazis and rethuglicans is like trying to give your mother-in-law guilt) Science and Reserch/Development lobbyists are having to do that, and so do we as unchurched americans, like it or not.

    Sun, 25 Sep 2011 23:19:55 UTC | #875134

    Rich Wiltshir's Avatar Comment 17 by Rich Wiltshir

    Politicians are an amusing breed.

    Last week I went to a local meeting about a planning application for a wind turbine near my home (I'm inclined to support the development). The clan of local councillors who'd jumped on the bandwagon all claimed 100% of the community were opposed - because 400 letters had been received and none of them were in favour. Even after a number of us announced our support for the turbine, they still said everyone was against it; politicians are like religoons, selecting and misrepresenting data to support their opinion.

    I'm delighted to see the US has opened an opportunity for petitions, but we all know they'll mine the data for opportunities to present themselves as compliant with public opinion - very little will happen.
    They'll trawl through the submissions to fuel their next election campaign - your best opportunity will stem from an overwhelming quantity or reason-related well-subscribed petitions.

    Every good fortune to you America; I'm a Brit.

    Sun, 25 Sep 2011 23:52:26 UTC | #875143

    Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 18 by Alan4discussion

    Historically there has been a term for the hysterical consensus of pubic ignorance. It is known a "mob rule" or the "lynch-mob". Conclusions without evidence but with whipped up popular support!

    Mon, 26 Sep 2011 21:13:24 UTC | #875497

    Big Gus's Avatar Comment 19 by Big Gus

    Comment 18 by Alan4discussion :

    Historically there has been a term for the hysterical consensus of pubic ignorance. It is known a "mob rule" or the "lynch-mob". Conclusions without evidence but with whipped up popular support!

    Right on the money there Alan, the only plus side on the UK version is that it seems to be the case that the Goverbent ignore all of them.

    Another problem is that it doesn't take much to get people to vote on these as a knee jerk to issues in society. The recent one on the death penalty being reintroduced in the UK is a well intentioned response to the trend for people who basically should be permanently removed from society getting off with minimal sentences based on Human Rights law. In fact the whole Human Rights issue is pretty much seen as a criminals charter by the vast majority of people because that is how they see it functioning in reality.

    Wed, 28 Sep 2011 09:59:21 UTC | #875904

    paulmcuk's Avatar Comment 20 by paulmcuk

    Comment 16 by wcapehart :

    Comment 11 by paulmcuk :

    It was a wheeze of the latest UK government that any petition (via it's website) that garnered 100,000 "signatures" would be considered (note, considered) as an issue for debate in parliament. First subject to reach 100,000 - the reintroduction of the death penalty.

    And how, out of curiosity, was it received? Dude, finish the story! :- )Did they take the debate matter seriously or was it dismissed as not being an "authentic" request?

    I believe it is still being "considered" - it certainly wasn't dismissed - but the view of political commentators is that it will probably be decided that it isn't appropriate for debate.

    Wed, 28 Sep 2011 17:20:12 UTC | #875998

    richardstubbs's Avatar Comment 21 by richardstubbs

    Comment 11 by paulmcuk :

    It was a wheeze of the latest UK government that any petition (via it's website) that garnered 100,000 "signatures" would be considered (note, considered) as an issue for debate in parliament. First subject to reach 100,000 - the reintroduction of the death penalty.

    Sorry to come to this late, but I came across this while browsing and feel obliged to correct you. The actual number currently stands at 21,693. Interestingly, the opposing petition "Petition to retain the ban on Capital Punishment" stands at 29,968.

    This is despite being easily the most publicised petition of all. Three petitions have currently passed 100,000. See government site

    I couldn't bear the thought of inaccuracies creeping into this place, of all places....

    Tue, 04 Oct 2011 21:43:48 UTC | #877929