The World According to Nick
My take on Software, Technology, Politics, and anything else I feel like talking about.
Thursday, April 21, 2005

As Long as the Conclusion is Good 

Journalists today remind me of people who read the ending of a book first... except then they don't even bother to start the book from the beginning. What are you talking about Nick? I'm talking about studies, surveys... anything that some "organization" (or even a government agency) talks about using a press release. All the media does these days is take the press release and pretty much run it verbatim. No questions... no skepticism... just crank it out door lest we be the only ones not to report it.

Let's look at some recent studies. But first a small disclaimer. I'm not saying that any of these are actually flawed. What I'm going to say is that not nearly enough information is provided to determine if they are or not. And certainly some of the group's motives leave me wondering.

Today their is a story on MSNBC about Generation Rx. If you read the story there, you will see that the study was done by the Partnership for a Drug Free America... but you will see no link to the study. You will also see no link to their press release. It's an online story... so how hard would a hyperlink be to create? Obviously it's not that hard... a quick Google search netted the original press release I linked to above. But here's the kicker. The Partnership for a yada yada yada don't include the original study anywhere on their website. At the bottom of their press release is a footnote with a link to a 3rd party group survey done by a public relations company. The link however goes to a 404 (page not found)!

What questions were asked of the teens? Was it an anonymous survey? I'm not asking a lot of difficult questions here... but I'm still not seeing any answers. Their press release certainly calls out a lot of conclusions, but they give no raw data. Too many times you see the conclusions from surveys, and then if you see the actual questions asked... you can see that either the questions led people to a specific answer... or the conclusions drawn have no real basis from the questions asked. Remember all the morality talk after the presidential elections?

This isn't the first time I've called this sort of thing into question either. A couple months ago I questioned a survey on binge drinking. They had the same problem. They were willing to share lots of conclusions, but provide no raw data. Maybe they're right. Maybe the problem is as big as they say it is. But frankly I've seen so many contradictory reports, and so many studies that blow problems out of proportion, that I frankly don't believe any of them any more.

Take for example the CDC. They've recently back peddled and said that obesity isn't the 2nd largest killer of people like they originally thought... instead it's number 7! Radley Balko has a good article on Tech Central Station about it. And of course that hasn't stopped the government from still pushing obesity as a major health threat.

If organizations really stand behind their conclusions... then why don't they provide their data? After all... if their conclusions are solid, we ought to come to the same conclusion right? So where's the data?

Comments:

So, just because you're an intelligent person with the powers of reason you think everyone should be that way. (Sarcasm intended)

Too many people look for leadership to indicate what they should be thinking and how they should react to things. And, we provide lip service about critical thinking skills but fail to reward it when we see it in action.

Good post.

  Posted at April 22, 2005 2:04 PM by Blogger Mike  
Many reporters publish stories directly from press releases. It's a combination of laziness, time pressures, and sometimes bias.

I've seen stories written from studies that seem so suspicious that I've tracked down both the press release and underlying data. Usually, it is clear that the story has been directly lifted from the press release.

I never trust any study or poll that does not provide easy access to the original material.

  Posted at April 27, 2005 12:26 PM by Blogger Calvin  
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Name: Nick
Home: Wauwatosa, WI, United States

I'm a Software Consultant in the Milwaukee area. Among various geeky pursuits, I'm also an amateur triathlete, and enjoy rock climbing. I also like to think I'm a political pundit.


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