back to article UK Home Office web form snafu allows you to both agree and disagree – strongly – all at once

A UK Home Office consultation on new, intrusive police powers was so incompetently written that you could both "strongly agree" and "strongly disagree" at the same time when answering its questions. The online survey, titled "Statutory guidance to police on firearms licensing", not only lacks a verification stage but also …

  1. Baldrickk

    An online game's forums that I frequent has a poll option on threads, where this happens frequently.

    Of course, this leads to many who frequent the forum poisoning the poll by selecting every answer simultaneously.

    A very high correlation between the occurrence of this open ended poll mistake, and the general idiocy on display by those who add said poll to their usually inane and conspiracy laden threads is quite obvious. For some reason, those who seem to actually have a clue about what they write on said forum seem to avoid this pitfall almost every time.

    1. Kubla Cant Silver badge

      poisoning the poll by selecting every answer simultaneously

      Selecting every option won't skew the results, Shirley?

      1. Baldrickk

        It'll average out the results.

        lets say 5 people vote, two options, yes and no.

        If they had to vote properly, then lets say the results are 3:2 in favour of a "yes".

        Lets say 4 additional people will take the opportunity to choose all options. We end up with a 7:6 ratio in favour of a "yes".

        Given that a number of the original voters may also take the opportunity to choose all options, we could even see the ratio balance out or reverse, depending on the question and what the answers mean. (there are some very polarising questions, and those who answer one way, are more likely to sabotage bad polls)

    2. baud

      I remember a forum admin who created a poll (keep or remove emoji reactions below forum posts) and after the handful of users who cared enough to vote had done so, switched around the labels to get the result he wanted. Of course posters spotted the exchange, but it's not as if it prevented him from doing whatever he wants (of course him being the admin/owner, there's no recourse)

      1. Baldrickk

        eww. If you're going to have your way, at least be honest about it.

  2. Tom 38 Silver badge

    this blunder harms public confidence in the idea that civil servants can be trusted to carry out their functions in a careful and impartial manner.

    Does it really? I think it just means they're a bit shit at this web thing. Checkboxes when you meant radio doesn't question your impartiality, just your ability - plus I doubt very much the people who coded this are the same people who have to decide things impartially.

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      "I doubt very much the people who coded this are the same people who have to decide things impartially."

      I assume that in order to get someone to create an online poll, they have to write their request on vellum, pass it to some obscure heraldic position, and hope that the raven it's tied to goes to the correct department.

      Only having two questions with 'tick' instead of 'radio' selected is something of a miracle tbh.

      1. Rich 11 Silver badge

        The correct department? The poll creation task will have been outsourced to whichever successful bidder undercut the next nearest competitor by 20 rupees.

        1. Tom Paine

          Nice kneejerk, but GDS are in the UK.

          https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/government-digital-service

      2. sbt Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Radio doesn't mean Wireless any more. Wireless doesn't mean radio, either.

        I wonder how many Web devs working today have ever seen the kind of radio unit where selecting one preset deselects any others. Haven't had one of those in a car for over twenty years now.

  3. Ordinary Donkey

    I guess they're aiming to get the opinions of the Vicky Pollard section of the community.

    1. ibmalone Silver badge

      Yeah, but no, but like I told him, whatever.

      1. GnuTzu

        Right, that's what they get for not having a box for "completely confused, undecided and/or just plain fickle".

  4. TRT Silver badge

    The Electric Monk was a labour-saving device,

    like a dishwasher or a video recorder. Dishwashers washed tedious dishes for you, thus saving you the bother of washing them yourself, video recorders watched tedious television for you, thus saving you the bother of looking at it yourself; Electric Monks believed things for you, thus saving you what was becoming an increasingly onerous task, that of believing all the things the world expected you to believe.

    Unfortunately this Electric Monk had developed a fault, and had started to believe all kinds of things, more or less at random. It was even beginning to believe things they'd have difficulty believing in Salt Lake City. It had never heard of Salt Lake City, of course. Nor had it ever heard of a quingigillion, which was roughly the number of miles between this valley and the Great Salt Lake of Utah.

    The problem with the valley was this. The Monk currently believed that the valley and everything in the valley and around it, including the Monk itself and the Monk's horse, was a uniform shade of pale pink.

    This made for a certain difficulty in distinguishing any one thing from any other thing, and therefore made doing anything or going anywhere impossible, or at least difficult and dangerous. Hence the immobility of the Monk and the boredom of the horse, which had had to put up with a lot of silly things in its time but was secretly of the opinion that this was one of the silliest.

    How long did the Monk believe these things?

    Well, as far as the Monk was concerned, forever. The faith which moves mountains, or at least believes them against all the available evidence to be pink, was a solid and abiding faith, a great rock against which the world could hurl whatever it would, yet it would not be shaken. In practice, the horse knew, twenty-four hours was usually about its lot.

    So what of this horse, then, that actually held opinions, and was sceptical about things? Unusual behaviour for a horse, wasn't it? An unusual horse perhaps?

    No. Although it was certainly a handsome and well-built example of its species, it was none the less a perfectly ordinary horse, such as convergent evolution has produced in many of the places that life is to be found. They have always understood a great deal more than they let on. It is difficult to be sat on all day, every day, by some other creature, without forming an opinion about them. On the other hand, it is perfectly possible to sit all day, every day, on top of another creature and not have the slightest thought about them whatsoever.

    When the early models of these Monks were built, it was felt to be important that they be instantly recognisable as artificial objects.

    There must be no danger of their looking at all like real people. You wouldn't want your video recorder lounging around on the sofa all day while it was watching TV. You wouldn't want it picking its nose, drinking beer and sending out for pizzas.

    So the Monks were built with an eye for originality of design and also for practical horse-riding ability. This was important. People, and indeed things, looked more sincere on a horse. So two legs were held to be both more suitable and cheaper than the more normal primes of seventeen, nineteen or twenty-three; the skin the Monks were given was pinkish-looking instead of purple, soft and smooth instead of crenellated. They were also restricted to just one mouth and nose, but were given instead an additional eye, making for a grand total of two.

    A strange-looking creature indeed. But truly excellent at believing the most preposterous things.

    This Monk had first gone wrong when it was simply given too much to believe in one day. It was, by mistake, cross-connected to a video recorder that was watching eleven TV channels simultaneously, and this caused it to blow a bank of illogic circuits. The video recorder only had to watch them, of course. It didn't have to believe them all as well. This is why instruction manuals are so important.

    So after a hectic week of believing that war was peace, that good was bad, that the moon was made of blue cheese, and that God needed a lot of money sent to a certain box number, the Monk started to believe that thirty-five percent of all tables were hermaphrodites, and then broke down. The man from the Monk shop said that it needed a whole new motherboard, but then pointed out that the new improved Monk Plus models were twice as powerful, had an entirely new multi-tasking Negative Capability feature that allowed them to hold up to sixteen entirely different and contradictory ideas in memory simultaneously without generating any irritating system errors, were twice as fast and at least three times as glib, and you could have a whole new one for less than the cost of replacing the motherboard of the old model.

    That was it. Done.

    The faulty Monk was turned out into the desert where it could believe what it liked, including the idea that it had been hard done by. It was allowed to keep its horse, since horses were so cheap to make.

    For a number of days and nights, which it variously believed to be three, forty-three, and five hundred and ninety-eight thousand seven hundred and three, it roamed the desert, putting its simple Electric trust in rocks, birds, clouds and a form of non-existent elephantasparagus, until at last it fetched up here, on this high rock, overlooking a valley that was not, despite the deep fervour of the Monk's belief, pink. Not even a little bit.

    Time passed.

    1. batfink Silver badge

      Re: The Electric Monk was a labour-saving device,

      Hmm. Stanislaw Lem?

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: The Electric Monk was a labour-saving device,

        Hardly.

        Douglas Adams.

      2. John Mangan

        Re: The Electric Monk was a labour-saving device,

        @batfink

        All hail the genius of Douglas Adams!

        Damn! Beaten by seconds. By the OP though, so that's not so bad.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The Electric Monk was a labour-saving device,

          Purely from the style, I was going to say Adams too, though I cannot pinpoint the exact work. Anyone care to share the source?

          1. Tom 38 Silver badge

            Re: The Electric Monk was a labour-saving device,

            You'd rather ask people to reply than search any search engine for "Douglas Adams Electronic Monk"?

            And yes, I'd rather berate you than answer.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: The Electric Monk was a labour-saving device,

              > You'd rather ask people to reply

              Of course! What would the internet be if it wasn't for its ability to help us connect with other real people… and tell them they're wrong?

              Speaking of which, it's the *Electric* Monk, not electronic.

              (More seriously, I've got that book on the shelf in front of me. For some reason I can't recall that passage so as good time as any to re-read it)

          2. ibmalone Silver badge

            Re: The Electric Monk was a labour-saving device,

            Arguably his best! Less reliant on pure zaniness than H2G2, cunningly plotted while still throwing in the absurd now and then. If you want to track it down I suggest engaging a detective agency, preferably one that will take a more holistic approach and go gently rather than running in dirks out.

            1. John G Imrie

              Re: The Electric Monk was a labour-saving device,

              Mr. Gently, about this bill you sent me for finding my cat?

              1. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

                Re: The Electric Monk was a labour-saving device,

                I assume the bill will be almost reasonable?

    2. sbt Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Adams C+P

      As much as I am a fan of DNA, this frequent (and in this case, excessively) naked quoting is getting old. I'm also a fan of Monty Python, Terry Prachett and other greats, but if you're just going to paste in a literary quote from a popular author with no context or comment, what is the point of you? Reddit is that way ->

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: Adams C+P

        I emboldened the relevant part. I know it's long, but I felt that just mentioning a "new multi-tasking Negative Capability feature", it would lack context. Same as just suggesting "maybe they have an electric monk plus running the website"... the reference would be lost.

        So I just let Douglas's words say it. It really is one of his greatest works, and I couldn't improve on it. I guess I could have cut out the bit about the horse, but I like horses.

        1. sbt Silver badge
          Holmes

          If you couldn't improve on it...

          Yeah, I saw the bold section and I get the reference. You're in the tribe; you know the cultural touchstones. So what?

          1. TRT Silver badge

            Re: If you couldn't improve on it...

            I suppose I could really piss you off and repeat the same post on the article about robots being employed to do everything now. Followed by the entire text of the "Demarcation mate – That's the problem." / "Philosoper's strike" speech.

            Ah, good old DNA. His works are as relevant today as they've ever been. Except the bit about the price of beer - that REALLY makes me feel old.

            ;-)

          2. heyrick Silver badge

            Re: If you couldn't improve on it...

            "So what?"

            I'm having a shit day at work, it was an amusing thing to read while on my break. So thank you to the person that posted it. All of it. Because context is important.

            That's what.

  5. fidodogbreath Silver badge

    HTML is hard.

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Hard

      To

      Make-work-right

      Language?

    2. Kubla Cant Silver badge

      HTML is hard

      It's utterly depressing to think that somebody is actually coding this stuff in HTML. Surveys are one of the ultimate commodity web applications.

      1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

        Re: HTML is hard

        You don't want the Government redirecting citizens to express opinions to zanystuff.surveywibble.ru though - although it's happened before.

        It crossed my mind that a survey on paper forms also has a limitation of not preventing more than one viewpoint being chosen on the page. For instance, at an election, or a referendum. Maybe that's how we got to the current situation?

      2. CrazyOldCatMan

        Re: HTML is hard

        Surveys are one of the ultimate commodity web applications

        Not everyone is using Wordpress y'know.. some people still use custom-built CMSes (or CMS applications that are less popular than the big ones and so don't have lots of plugins available).

  6. TRT Silver badge

    I quite like that...

    a few minutes after this story, another comes up saying that HMG is looking for a new CIO.

  7. BebopWeBop Silver badge

    As of 16.40 17/09/19 it still allows it. Funny - I had to look at a tool being recommended at the Home office for these sorts of forms (presented as PDFs that would also display in a Web page) - I believe that it was the chosen one. It not only used exclusive checks but was a royal pain in the arse about ensuring that the author OKd every time they tried not to avoid it (that was a selling point for the people commissioning the work). Oh well.....

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Vote early and vote often...

    An election in the Niger Delta had a turnout of more than 120%

  9. Barrie Shepherd

    Thanks to The Reg. for bringing this 'survey' to the more general public's attention. I was seriously concerned by the supporting documents inferences that firearms licensing is currently inconsistent and, worse, that the absence of medical certificates has historically not be an obstacle to gaining a firearms license.

    As for the structure of the survey I doubt if any government employed civil servant put it together. It was most likely constructed by a favoured 'expert' contractor (Crapita?). The brief would have been get a few observations that confirm we are on the right track and don't upset the County set who don't believe in firearms licensing at all (I do know some of those 'good citizens') . The 'Expert' organisation probably then handed the task to the last intern through the door, as evidenced by the failures.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    is there a fence option?

    1. SVV

      There should always be a "Don't Know" option. One of my favourite things about web surveys is that people actually take the time to partake in these things and choose that option, thinking it worthwhile to make an effort giving their opinion that they don't have an opinion. A "Don't Care" option would perhaps be a slight improvement, but counting the number of people who admit they are too stupid to participate is of questionable value.

  11. Warm Braw Silver badge

    Perhaps....

    ... they should have simply erected a large form at the side of the road and encouraged the prospective respondents to take aim at the answer of their choice?

    Though, judging by the tone of the article, they're probably all too busy grinding their axes.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    My employer...

    My employer, one of the big 5 so anon, has recently made everyone go through an online data security training thingy which consists of a tediously slow presentation with a test at the end and you have to score at least 80%. We're told that this is super important because of the risk to the company of mishandling data.

    And it's so super-important the security people couldn't even be arsed to proof read it: one of the questions has five choices but only four radio buttons, because two of the answers have been run into one. Annoyingly one of the merged answers is the right one so you can't actually score 100%. Or maybe you choose radio button 2 (which is labelled with a clearly wrong answer) because that's where the correct answer should have been positioned? Who knows?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: My employer...

      Not unusual, we've had our data protection training test do something similar for years, there's also another question which has the wrong "correct" answer and of course it's all out of date now as nobody has updated it post GDPR..

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Deception by Obfuscation

    A very old but still highly effective political tool.

  14. 2+2=5 Silver badge

    Or maybe...

    > A UK Home Office consultation on new, intrusive police powers was so incompetently written that you could both "strongly agree" and "strongly disagree"

    Or maybe the Home Office officials did realise that the web people had been idiots but decided that it wasn't worth delaying the consultation and incurring additional cost to get it fixed? After all, it's a consultation and not compulsory. Those wishing to give their feedback will presumably fill it in properly. Those who don't will have their responses ignored.

    Years ago, when my wife was in the maternity ward waiting to give birth, the meals were chosen by making pencil marks on a card (that was suspiciously the same size as a punched card). The card had a misprint though: you could order a white and a brown roll OR margarine and butter. There was no way to order a roll and a spread to go on it. And, most depressingly, the woman who came round to collect the cards appeared to have been lobotomised: she was completely unable to recognise that there was a problem let alone know how to do something about it.

    The fix was to split your choice with the person in the bed next to you and hope they hadn't delivered and left by the next day!

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ideal for the Israeli market

    Having lived there, I think this design perfectly reflects Israeli public, and individual, opinion on almost any matter. I would just remove the "not strongly" option and it's good to go.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Policy by web poll

    I mean, like what could POSSIBLY go wrong?

  17. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Nothing New

    I've yet to come across any on-line poll that actually has a rational and comprehensive set of choices.

  18. Winkypop Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Consultancy by check list

    Have a poll

    Do some marketing

    Have a group think session

    Whale song

    Social media

    -------------

    Implement whatever you want

  19. eldakka Silver badge
    Coat

    What's wrong with it?

    Finally, a survey where all my personalities get to express an opinion!

    "you're an idiot, of course it's wrong"

    "no, it's a good thing"

    "I think we should vote on our opinion"

    "kill her, you know you want to"

  20. heyrick Silver badge

    Incompetent, contradictory, and stupid

    Isn't that pretty much every government IT thing ever?

  21. heyrick Silver badge
    Mushroom

    "harms public confidence in the idea that civil servants can be trusted to carry out their functions in a careful and impartial manner"

    Holy effing crap, have you not heard of Windrush? Have you not heard of the many EU citizens being given presettled status (whatever that means)? Have you not heard of Brexit? Or the new word of the month "prorogue"?

    We are so far beyond having any faith in any part of the government to function in anything that even remotely resembles either careful or impartial. Or competent. Or fit for purpose. Or.....

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ....... [Dial tone] ..........

    heyrick,

    To continue your comment:

    Or .... any definition of *any* criteria that could hint at *any* capacity to delivery positively against said defined criteria !!!

    [Parse carefully and it does make sense :) ]

    TLDR = 'Holy Effing crap' to the nth power. n = infinity + 1

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Given what is heppening at UKRI (another public body) this doesn't suprise me - experienced web editors' jobs are taken away and given to people of two pay grades higher (and so there are a lot less of them and they have no web editing experience). The former web editors couldn't apply for the jobs because the rules forbid you taking a two-grade jump in pay grades.

    The consequence is that the quality and usability of the web content takes an immediate and rapid drop in quality and accessibility. But UKRI doesn't care because it ends up being cheaper.

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