Research and truth
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Research and truth

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why research and researchers won't always tell you the truth

why research and researchers won't always tell you the truth

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  • elderly Taiwanese people who shop every day are 27% less likely to die over 10 years than those who shop once a week –cause or effect?


  • 1. Why research (and researchers) won’t always tell you the truth
  • 2. Why researchers sometimes go wrong • They make mistakes • They talk to the wrong people (e.g. they can’t talk to people without landlines on CATI surveys) • They confuse cause with effect (A and B regularly happen together – therefore A causes B) • They are sure of the conclusion before the research – & design the research (or fudge the data) to prove it • They are frightened of the wrong conclusions • They have reasons to lie (e.g. ties to funding organisations)
  • 3. Questionable research practices are common John et al. (2011) Prevalence of Questionable Research Practices. Psychological Science 23(5) 524–532 3
  • 4. Why don’t people always tell the truth? • They want to be liked • They are boasting (especially on social media!) • They don’t want to feel stupid • They hope to win something • They get bored • They can’t be bothered to think • Or perhaps they do tell the truth but they are not a representative sample • Social media participants and survey respondents are often “people with something to say”
  • 5. How not to tell the truth in surveys Sir Humphrey Appleby knew all about leading questions!
  • 6. Selecting the data • What is the “best” set of data to fit my thesis • Are there “outliers” I can ignore – or include
  • 7. Selecting the axes 7
  • 8. Data visualisation – the wrong chart Pie charts can easily cause problems And infographics can be very difficult to get right (area of B on the left is 9x that of B on the right)
  • 9. Selecting what you report What is the average income in my street? 1 teacher earning One celeb earning 14 managers £35,000 £4,464,000 making £50,000 20 other people only Five professionals making £10,000 making £150,000 mean = £150,000; median = £35,000; mode = £10,000
  • 10. Conclusions Handle data with care Business is an art, not a science! 10