Any which way but loose

8 Oct

I love statistics and data. I am always on the look out for numbers, studies, research, percentage of this or that and anything else that I can use in a grant proposal needs statement. If you are really creative, you can interpret data or connect dots that lead you to a solid argument in favor of your agency.

This is, of course, a double-edged sword. If you are creative enough, you can use data to support an argument that in its raw form, it doesn’t. Which is of course, dishonest. You can also (on purpose or without realizing it) phrase data in such a way that it doesn’t convey the original point. Playing fast and loose with data is dishonest, unprofessional and if you are caught, you give yourself and your agency a black eye. You’re lying to your funders.

Case in point, I saw a video on YouTube recently about the social media revolution. It featured some incredible data–literally. The information was so surprising that I couldn’t help but trace it back to its original form. The author of the video sells himself as a social media guru, which he may well be, but the data he uses to promote himself, his book and the concept of social media as a movement is flawed and faulty. He seems to be aware of this and cheerfully shrugs it off. Yikes.

For example, he states that 80% of employers use Linked In as their primary source for recruiting employees. Really? When questioned by others, he admits that it is actually that 80% of American employers responding to a survey indicated that Linked In is a primary (meaning they use others) tool in recruiting employees. That’s a big difference.

There are other slips in judgement–for that’s really what it is–in this video. Which is unfortunate. For example, the claim that online students perform better than those receiving face-to-face instruction has to be true right? It comes from the US Department of Education! Not so much. The full text of the study says that students who received instruction online in tandem with in-person instruction perform better. That’s some pretty convenient cherry picking.

The video is rife with astounding data, packaged in a slick, fast-paced and eye catching format. It looks really good. It makes you want to believe.

But an aggressive, techno sound track doesn’t change the fact that the data is flawed, misused, misinterpreted and misquoted. Knowingly.

I still believe that the social network revolution is upon us. Today I gave a brief presentation on the use of social media in fundraising. I had planned to show this video, but changed my mind once I looked behind the curtain. I wish I could still read this guy’s book, but he’s now lost all credibility with me.

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