checklist, check, list
TeroVesalainen (CC0), Pixabay

I get target fixated. If I need to find the answer to a question, I hunt it down ruthlessly. I simply don’t stop till I know what the whole answer is. I think this is what started my book collection. I enjoy co-op radio (www.coopradio.org), but I must confess that it isn’t the radio station I listen to via my alarm clock. I have a crappy radio alarm, and haven’t found one at the thrift store yet that can get co-op like my stereo in the living room, (or via the Internet). So when I set up the alarm clock I choose the channel closest to co-op I could get, hoping to fine tune it later. Well, it turns out this channel (which I won’t name, partly due to not wanting to advertise them) has an “Impossible Question” every morning. The object is, they ask a question, and callers try to phone in the correct answer to get a prize.

The result for me is that I can not fall back to sleep because I need to know the answer. But awhile ago I noticed the question being asked were useless as far as knowledge goes. They were all survey results which didn’t really help further improve mankind’s place in the world. I mean, who cares whether or not guys like red or pink lipstick anyway?

Being a researcher myself, I’ve done many surveys which have at their core a purpose. Public opinion polls might tell us which Liberal, or Conservative moron might win the next election, but education surveys will tell us why people are not making smart choices with the environment. The problem with surveys is the way some research companies load the questions.

When I have a conversation with someone it has at it’s core context. You know what I am talking about when I ask you a question because we’ve been sitting in the coffee shop for the last hour getting buzzed off of java beans. Paul Lazarsfeld (1935), who wrote one of the earliest papers on research interviewing would call this “the flow of ordinary discourse”. Without such a discourse, the context is tilted, sometimes towards where the researchers want it to go. If I walk up to you on the street and suddenly ask you if you think that Chlorofluorocarbons are the leading cause of Global Warming, you may answer with a yes, or a no. You might ask what the heck is a Chlorofluorowhatchamacallit. (emissions from the use of fossil fuels). Note however, I never asked you if you believed that Global Warming was a real problem. If I did, maybe I could also find out why you drive that SUV.

Multiple choice is the same thing…

Which do you think is the leading cause of Lung Cancer?

1: Smoking
2: Smog
3: GMO’s
4: Pesticides
5: Radiation from Microwaves, Cell phones, & Power Lines

Although, smoking really is the leading cause of lung cancer, did you know that radon is the second?

Radon is considered to be the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. today. Radon gas can come up through the soil under a home or building and enter through gaps and cracks in the foundation or insulation, as well as through pipes, drains, walls or other openings. Radon causes between 15,000 and 22,000 lung cancer deaths each year in the United States — 12 percent of all lung cancer deaths are linked to radon.” – Facts About Lung Cancer November 20, 2006 American Lung Assoc.

You have to be careful in asking question when doing research, it effects the outcome. That is why the scientific community encourages peer review. Even when the only research involved is done complete in a lab, it still requires the peer review, because to put it plainly, sometimes we ask ourselves the wrong questions.

Just something to think about the next time that phone rings with a survey on the other end, you may want to ask a few questions yourself. Who are they taking the survey for? Who will get the results? And most important, who is paying for it?

-Wolfe