Lies, damn lies and statistics

5 08 2008

I know my headline is probably the most over-used quote of all time but nothing else would do for this BBC News Magazine article on PR-driven surveys.

The author of the piece is very kind to not point the finger at lazy PR people for peddling this kind of trash and giving the rest of us a bad name.  All too often, “communications strategy” turns to “research” when things are quiet on the news-front in an attempt to create news.  And all too often it is a load of crap.  I don’t mind using research and commissioning surveys, but I do mind when the findings are so obviously created to advertise a product or service.  The example in the article actually isn’t the worst research I’ve seen…

Proper research should survey more than a handful of people.  Proper research should set out to prove something worth proving – and preferably vaguely interesting (though I admit that the latter point is subjective).  Proper research can certainly be newsworthy but shouldn’t be used to create news that doesn’t exist.

“The news is chock full of surveys.  Many are blatant self-promotion and/or statistical garbage.”

I don’t know if I am more dismayed at the PR people that create this stuff, the readers that believe it or the journalists that write it up as news..?

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