Thursday, December 05, 2013

The ever-sensible Megan McCardle deconstructs one of those "gosh-wow!" reports on violence against women.

Here is her article:

But there’s an even bigger problem: Who answers which questions? This is an issue that repeatedly plagues online surveys. Say you want to know how many of your readers have kids with autism. If you put up a survey asking people about their special-needs kids, with maybe some follow-up questions about the challenges of dealing with the special-needs bureaucracy, what do you think will happen? Parents of special-needs kids will forward the survey to each other, tweet about it, discuss it over coffee. And when you get your results back, you’ll find out that 50 percent of your readership apparently has kids with special needs.

And indeed, at the end of her article, Hess says: “Some of the journalists who responded to the survey were assaulted by journalists with whom they did not directly work, but the news business is an erratic one. We could be working with them soon. And then we could be working beneath them.

“So we keep whispering. The survey is still live; female journalists can report their experiences anonymously here.”

Did I click through the survey to report that I have been working as a journalist for 10 years and have never once been pushed, shoved, pinned down, punched, kicked, torn, folded, mutilated or spindled? Of course not; I already have a very full day. But I bet that if I had been assaulted, I’d have clicked through to share my story.

All of which is to say that people who feel strongly about something, or have had something unusual happen to them, are much more likely to respond to your “opportunity survey” than, say, folks who work at Bloomberg with brilliant, courteous and respectful editors and a swell boss. That’s why professional opinion researchers discourage their use to represent the broad public experience.

This survey undoubtedly tells us one thing: Some female journalists have been assaulted and harassed, which is appalling. But contra the Slate headline, we have no idea how common this experience actually is.//

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