Saturday, April 5, 2008

Confusing surveys

I used to be a great fan of survey results. Not any more. At least not a great many of them, wherein the results are dependent on far too many parameters. Of late I have begun to view them more like "What the stars foretell" column in the media. I guess for many readers too these survey results serve more to reinforce existing beliefs than dramatically alter them.

The ones most suspect are those relating to food habits and health. I am tired of reading these results; and the frequency with which these studies have been held. The vast differences in the conclusions confuse rather than enlighten any reader.

Take consumption of water for example. We have always been told that we should drink lots of water, ideally it seams at least 8 glasses every day. (Source: Parent Jazz.) Day before yesterday, there was this bit of news that quoted a study by scientists saying drinking lots of water may not of any use. (Source: BBC and Rediff).

Another is sex surveys, and these come out at very frequent intervals. And, quite understandably command high readership. Again day before yesterday, AP put out this story quoting sex therapists, which was picked up a number of media outlets, saying "the optimal amount of time for sexual intercourse was 3 to 13 minutes". (Source: AP feed on Yahoo News). Here is another one: Italians prefer football to sex. (Source: PTI story in DNA.)

The problem is that all these surveys and studies sound very conclusive, there is a ring of certainty at least for a casual reader - very much like the astrological predictions column. What is missed by most of us, is that a number of parameters determine the conclusions. The findings might be right only for the sample examined.

The validity of a survey largely depends on the how well the sampling has been done. Contrary to popular notion it's not the size of the sample that matters, it's how representative the sample is what matters. And, most of these surveys hardly elaborate on the sampling details.

Matters of health are very individualistic. What science give us is broad guidelines in idealistic situations. What is okay for one person need not necessarily be okay for another; and vice-versa. So, let's not jump to conclusions reading these random surveys, mistaking them for universal application. We should take a call on how well or not the findings are applicable to each one of us.


  1. I hear you on those, it's just amazig what is studied and goes into surveys those days.
    I frankly don't see the point of those food and health surveys either, big deal if I drink more than 8 glasses, or that I should now drink 6, or that chocolate isn't wonder food anymore.

    When did people stopped using their own common sense and do what feels right for them without consulting a survey?

  2. You are totally right. I have always found surveys and survey results quite amusing. :) I look at the people who have been surveyed and if I see that I have nothing in common with them, then I also know that the results mean nothing to me personally.

  3. i pity those guys who take some of these surveys seriously - like they do in the US. to give you an example - i was speeding to make an appointment and my son says - according to some survey done on routes with more traffic lights, it is very unlikely that i would reach earlier, so i should slow down..

    i was flabbergasted...well, life is like that these days..

    that water survey is the worst - saying you must drink 6 liters or something, doctors tell you this all the time in the US..