The Seven Deadly Sins of Conducting a Survey Study

I stumbled upon this “survey analysis” on an Apple related list called “iPad Opinion Profile – iPad Personality Clash: Elites vs. Geeks”. The brief summary of this survey suggests that iPad owners are “Selfish Elites” and those who oppose the iPad are “Independent Geeks”.

It takes a bit to get an idea of what these guys did, but here is my list of the seven deadly sins of conducting a survey:

  1. don’t care about being representative, just ask some guys on, say facebook
    (the survey actually started before the iPad was released …)
  2. normalize the data – somehow
    (it says: “The survey sample was normalized to match the gender, age and personality distribution of 13-49 year olds living in the United States”), good luck!
  3. only pick a tiny fraction of the data to make things more interesting
    (the “study” only looks at 9% of the survey data and mixes owners of an iPad with those who intend to buy one …)
  4. ask a lot of unrelated questions
    (the question for “The Biggest Sin” is really something that haunts us, especially when thinking about touch devices)
  5. never ever show the questions you actually asked
    (no sample questionnaire is supplied)
  6. don’t mention the absolute numbers behind the results, only use ratios, which really go haywire for small numbers; compare to the undefined “average person”
    (no quantities at all, only the overall size of 20,000)
  7. only pick the findings that make a good headline and match your insinuation – never point to contradicting results
    (according to the study, iPad owners are strongest for families with many children, but are referred to being “not very kind or altruistic” – great)

Although I am neither an iPad owner, nor intend to buy one anytime soon (though donations are welcome ;-)), my verdict from the results of the study are, that iPad critics are “low stimulated, introverted, reserved, insecure, neurotic young males, tending to be aggressive and lazy, mainly found in Hawaii and Alaska”.

– sometimes I feel guilty being a statistician

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