Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

I recently completed a survey questionnaire for YouGov.

As always, it was quite interesting, and as always, I completed it as honestly as I could.

And as always, there was one rigged question:

"Would you like to see Great Britain divided into England, Scotland and Wales" they asked (I'm paraphrasing!) "Or would you choose to have them stay united?"

At first glance, it's just a stupid question; no-one has even suggested Wales goes independent, so why ask?

But the question invites you to say "Don't be silly, they should stay together" .... allowing YouGov to say "the majority of those asked supported the continuance of the UK", and use it in the context of Scottish independence, even though they never asked it in the context of Scottish independence.

Never trust a statistic!

This isn't the first time I've caught YouGov cheating; when they asked questions about broadcasting, they used to ignore FreeSat - so if you stated you used satellite TV, they could make it look as if you were a Sky supporter.

Every time they did this, I challenged them in the final 'comments' section, finally warning that I would write to any newspaper publishing distorted stats based on their survey. I can't have been the only complainant, as they started including FreeSat from then on ... though it gets a three word description 'free satellite broadcaster', while sky gets a whole paragraph. I wonder who pays for these surveys?