How has the world changed? I mean there was a time when we lived in caves and fought sabre tooth tigers for a living, but since we invented the wheel and the iPhone things have got a bit muddied. Now we have days off work, public liability insurance, Kim Kardashian and of course; statistics. Ah yes, statistics. The easy-way-out, proof in black and white opinion former. So we don’t look silly and uneducated in front of our friends we must absorb such statistics so to be able to sound smart and informed when engaged in conversation. But really, how reliable are they and can they be trusted?
Take British politics as a good example. George Osbourne comes out and says that he is not going to tax the rich any more than what is fair. Ed Milliband then turns around and uses a famous Tory slogan in a bizarre attempt to win back the support of the Trade Unions. They bat their proposals around and more often than not people disagree. “No you can’t tax the rich more, otherwise where’s the incentive to work hard to achieve success?!” some say. Others chant “Bastard Tories and their silver spoons, how about more money for the unions?” Round and round in circles we go. Britain, like everywhere else in the world, is torn down the middle. So the only way to gauge a clear idea of what the nation really thinks is to get the old clipboard and anorak out and hit the high street.
The endless stream of surveys that are continually referenced in justifying ones point and used to sway public opinion are totally useless. A recent survey says that the Trade Unions are actually the most rational people in the world; another one says that the Tories have never been more popular. One survey will tell us what people think of Crossrail, and another survey will tell us what a different bunch of people think about Crossrail. I have nearly 550 friends on Facebook and as far as I know not one of them has ever been asked any question from a government, or indeed any, survey used in either national media or a political party manifesto.
I admit I have seen young people with clipboards in Kingston-upon-Thames many times before, but all they try to do is coerce me into signing over my dad’s house to save an animal I have never heard of. Otherwise, the surveyors of such things are as mythical as the Minator as far as I’m concerned. But when we’re told that 94% of Britain loves Alex Salmond, is that really 94% of the United Kingdom or just 94% of the 12 people you asked in a Glasgow working mans club?
Now then, the UAE loves nothing more than a good old fashioned survey. Every day you open the paper there is guaranteed to be another set of meaningless statistics and percentages proving to you that someone has been wasting their time. Only yesterday did I report that 71% of people were worried that Facebook was going to expose their hedonism to their parents. Other recent surveys include that young people are all feeling unprepared for the workplace and that wearing a seatbelt will not make you as cool as someone who drives with an iPad on their lap.
Interestingly, the common denominator with all of the surveys published in the UAE is that they are all, without question, carried out by undergraduate students who have only surveyed other undergraduate students. I mean this in the nicest possible way, which is a tall order for me, but really a student’s perception on the real world is irrelevant to the rest of us. No, really. Students have no experience of the real world, they’re not bad people and certainly not all stupid, but even the smartest ones haven’t got a clue how the world works. If you are going to ask people what they think of the Iranian nuclear crisis their eyes are going to gloss over and they will retort with some vague response that translates roughly into them wanting peace. Yes we all want peace with Iran but we didn’t ask you what you wanted, we wanted to know how you think the UN should deal with it and what we should do if Israel presses the big red button first?
How can we take any survey seriously if the collected results are all from a bunch of students from the same university? That’s like asking all of Barack Obama’s aides in the oval office who they would vote for, their Democrat paymaster or that would-be Bond villain Mitt Romney? You’re only going to get a partisan response. Such practice is ok if you are just doing it for your homework but in the real world we need real data. We need to know what the masses really want and think, the taxpayers…well ok over here not taxpayers, but you know, grown ups, tax exiles if you will…
You cannot mislead an entire population by quoting stats and figures accrued from a playground. You need to get out there to catch the man on the street, well, the man in the mall, but in the evenings because he works during the day. What do you mean you don’t work evenings and weekends? How are you supposed to collate the data accurately if you’re not asking the right audience? Huh? You’re an idiot, surely not? Is that why you just asked the students, because they’re around in the daytime and you didn’t have to leave campus? So you think it’s ok to provide national media with meaningless statistics about how many students prefer chocolate milkshake to strawberry?
I bet you get paid well too…