Wonks Nix Pic Survey

February 18, 2014
Posted by Jay Livingston

“How could we get evidence for this?” I often ask students. And the answer, almost always is, “Do a survey.” The word survey has magical power; anything designated by that name wears a cloak of infallibility.

“Survey just means asking a bunch of people a bunch of questions,” I’ll say. “Whether it has any value depends on how good the bunch of people is and how good the questions are.”  My hope is that a few examples of bad sampling and bad questions will demystify.

For example, Variety

Here’s the lede:
Despite its Biblical inspiration, Paramount’s upcoming “Noah” may face some rough seas with religious audiences, according to a new survey by Faith Driven Consumers.
The data to confirm that idea:
The religious organization found in a survey that 98% of its supporters were not “satisfied” with Hollywood’s take on religious stories such as “Noah,” which focuses on Biblical figure Noah.
The sample:
Faith Driven Consumers surveyed its supporters over several days and based the results on a collected 5,000+ responses.
And (I’m saving the best till last) here’s the crucial survey question:
As a Faith Driven Consumer, are you satisfied with a Biblically themed movie – designed to appeal to you – which replaces the Bible’s core message with one created by Hollywood?
As if the part about “replacing the Bibles core message” werent enough, the item reminds the respondent of her or his identity as a Faith Driven Consumer. It does make you wonder about that 2% who either were fine with the Hollywood* message or didn’t know. 

You can’t really fault Faith Driven Consumer too much for this shoddy “research.” They’re not in business to find the sociological facts. What’s appalling is that Variety accepts it at face value and without comment.

* The director of “Noah” is Daniel Aronofsky; the script is credited to him and Ari Handel.  For the Faith Driven Consumer, “Hollywood” may carry connotations in addition to that of industry and location – perhaps something similar to “New York sense of humor” in this clip  from “The West Wing” (the whole six minutes is worth watching, but you’ll get the idea if you push the pointer to 2:20 or so and watch for the next 45 seconds). Or look at this L.A. Times column by Joel Stein.

(HT: @BrendanNyhan retweeted by Gabriel Rossman)

1 comment:

Paulo said...

This reminds me of the time when I got called up to take a phone survey in 2004.

Most of the questions were not particularly interesting, but the one that really floored me was: "Do you support President Bush's War on Terror including both the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, OR is terrorism not a priority for you?"

The very nice lady on the other end of the phone had to listen to me rant about that for a solid ten minutes.