Thursday, April 19, 2012

Step right up, step right up

Here's a case of Fox being -- not evil, in the sense of lying about quanti- tative evidence to serve the purposes of its satanic masters, but clueless, in the sense of being unable to tell when it's being spun by made-up data. Since that could happen to any who stray from the path of righteousness, let's have a look:

What’s the difference between the office and a singles bar? Well, nothing for some millennials.

According to a study by employee benefits provider Workplace Options, 84% of employees aged 18 to 29 say they would date a co-worker, and 71% say they think workplace romance is a positive thing that improves performance and morale.

OMG those kids!

Their older colleagues disagree, as only 29% of those aged 46 to 65 say they’d consider dating someone they worked with, and 90% say it could do more harm than good.

Let's stop the tape for a moment (and if this sounds like what we were talking about in New Orleans last week, it is). Have we asked yet what's in the sample drawn on by "employee benefits provider Workplace Options" and how that sample was selected? If we haven't, or if we have and the answer is the occasional hem-hem, the story is over. We can't make any generalizations about those crazy millennials, because we don't have any tools that would allow us to do so. And if we don't have a few other competently done surveys that point us toward a positive and significant change in 18-29s' involvement in office shenanigans, we should kill the story on the spot and make sport of the buffoon who suggested it, because the premise is entirely fictional.

That means it's not really relevant to ask about question design -- for example, whether "positive thing" and "could do more harm than good" are poles on the same scale, or whether the variance in "would you date a co-worker" is so soaked up by marital status as to be meaningless.* There is no "on the rise." There is no "study." There is no story.

The tradeoff here isn't especially good. Fox gets to run a bogus headline and a stock photo of young people looking like office workers, and in return, people who have titles like "career coach" get to promote themselves in something that looks like a news story. I don't think the news outlet is getting the better of that deal.

Aw, can't Your Editor*** take a joke? Yes, if it's funny. But news stories are known by the company they keep. If your barriers for made-up social generalizations are set so low as to allow this one over, you shouldn't expect me to believe the ones you do take seriously.

* "Face validity" is a different question. Not only does every generation** think it invented sex, every generation thinks it invented office romance.
** And their music? It's just noise.
*** Who, disclosure-wise, met the totally hot grammar bomb Language Czarina at a newspaper back when he still had the accursed 1976 Fiat.

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Blogger Karen said...

Furthermore, even if it had been a validly conducted scientific study, the question of whether someone WOULD date a co-worker doesn't in any way lead to the conclusion that actual office romances are "on the rise." Even if 100% of the survey respondents said they WOULD date a co-worker, that doesn't mean that even one of them actually HAS.

10:49 AM, April 20, 2012  
Anonymous raYb said...

Then, of course, there are extenuating circumstances as to why "only 29% of those aged 46 to 65 say they’d consider dating someone they worked with." Like, say, how many are married and have children? Did thy extract the married from the sample?

11:01 AM, April 20, 2012  
Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Plus, how many of those meant a specific co-worker as opposed to all of them, or were dealing in the realm of all possible co-workers at all possible jobs versus the bozos in my cube?

10:07 AM, April 21, 2012  
Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Not to mention the whole 20-year-olds date more than 60-year-olds, or perhaps that could be better expressed as 60-year-olds know better than they did at 20 when they too would have answered You Bet! to a similar question...

10:09 AM, April 21, 2012  
Anonymous Corinne Winthrop said...

And yet, people reading this flawed data still believe it! That's why it's our job as journalists to find these kinds of mistakes and correct them. It definitely hurts the newspaper or magazine's credibility when they print things like this and it causes people like us (the ones who catch this) to think twice when the paper prints a serious study backed by a survey.

1:57 AM, April 24, 2012  

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