Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Surveys - Should we believe them?

There is a lot written about survey methodology as a tool in evaluation, but despite the easy and neat stats that they deliver, one should regard them with a little bit of skepticism, it seems.

Two stories to demonstrate the point:

According to a speaker on 702 talk radio I heard earlier this week, Volkskas bank still receives votes for one of the best brands in South Africa (in the Annual Markinor survey), despite the fact that it has ceased existence now for more than just a couple of years. At least in this survey, you can identify problematic answers because survey respondents had the option of giving an open-ended answer. I shudder to think what people actually do when they get one of those tick box multiple choice surveys...

In the next example, it is just so clear that one should question even the most basic assumptions people make when they complete a survey.

LONDON (AFP) - Britons are losing their grip on reality, according to a poll out Monday which showed that nearly a quarter think Winston Churchill was a myth while the majority reckon Sherlock Holmes was real. The survey found that 47 percent thought the 12th century English king Richard the Lionheart was a myth. And 23 percent thought World War II prime minister Churchill was made up. The same percentage thought Crimean War nurse Florence Nightingale did not actually exist.Three percent thought Charles Dickens, one of Britain's most famous writers, is a work of fiction himself. Indian political leader Mahatma Gandhi and Battle of Waterloo victor the Duke of Wellington also appeared in the top 10 of people thought to be myths. Meanwhile, 58 percent thought Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional detective Holmes actually existed; 33 percent thought the same of W. E. Johns' fictional pilot and adventurer Biggles.

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