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Repeat: We do not have to run dumb surveys

Here’s a thought for the new year: Let’s give up publishing articles about stupid and unsound surveys.

Go over to HeadsUp and watch as fev methodically anatomizes a fatuous article about how dishonest teenagers have become. (Those damn kids!) It turns out, you’ll be surprised, that the survey on which the article is based is of questionable reliability and that the article credulously repeats and amplifies the conclusions. (Mr. Barnum’s maxim lives! This way to the egress!)

If your publication gave any credence to this thing, for shame. And if you had an opportunity to question it and object to its publication, doubly shamed. Those of you who function as editors ought not to bow reverently at “experts say” or “studies” from the Munchausen Institute for Simulated Validity or “verification” by the holder of the Ferdinand Waldo Demara Chair of Advanced Mendacity at the Piltdown Academy. Part of the reason you collect wages is to be skeptical, not credulous.

Also, while there may still be time, do whatever is necessary — interpose your person if you must — to prevent your publication from running that asinine annual feature on how much it would cost today to duplicate the gifts enumerated in “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

If print journalism is indeed shipping water and starting to heel over, let’s at least go down while publishing something worth reading.



Posted by John McIntyre at 8:55 AM | | Comments (11)


You can use surveys to prove any point, John.

47% of people know that.

The question we all need to be asking, when reading "Study" findings is, "Who paid for the study?"

I saw those data in yesterday's Sun and thought they looked familiar. Now I know why. Thanks for pointing out the analysis at HeadsUp.

Studies and statistics are hard enough for me to pick through, so I can only respect the challenge faced by the copy desk in critiquing them and reporters' challenge in reporting on them. "Who paid for the study?" is always a good question to ask, though how much that biases results is occasionally tricky to parse out. If I see a study, my question is usually, "What does the abstract say?" It takes three minutes to find out, and nine times out of ten tells me whether a.) the reporter read or at least understands the study, b.) the data match the claims, or c.) the study design is sound enough to be worth my time. You'd be surprised how often any one of those is answered in the negative. Or maybe not.

Your points about credulous journalists are good ones, of course, but I cannot imagine why you'd want to pick on our feathered friends.

Egrets are lovely, graceful birds, and the female especially so; why you or this "Mr. Barnum" would want to use them as the butt of some kind of obscure joke is beyond me.

All I can imagine is that you're somehow threatened by the egrets' evolutionary success and growing population. After all, I've heard that there's one born every minute.

Thank you.

"Egrets". Heh. People who don't read carefully are funny.

Didn't the Sun already run the "12 Days of Christmas" article on December 1? Stuff is falling through the cracks.

As Edith Piaf sang, "no, no egrets ..."

I was reading somewhere that a sharp rise in the price of swans a-swimming is making Christmas more expensive this year ...

Heh. I figured my Barnum allusion would properly convey my wink. Not to everybody, I guess. I almost wish now that I hadn't commented. As Frankie sang, "Egrets, I've had a few ..."

For what it's worth, I thought the egrets thing was a joke from the start.

Prof. McIntyre, you seem to be building your own Sandbox, but with a level of humor that requires more thought. Now some of us will be forced to function on two levels.


I would like to dispute Mr bryanintimonium's statistic of 47% of people knowing that. The studies I have seen put that number at 47.67092837587%. Since my number has more decimal places it has to be more accurate and therefore the correct number.

Um Bucky,

Over here its the Parlor.


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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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