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Media Businesses The Almighty Buck

Lies, Damned Lies, and the UK Copyright Industry 219

artg writes "Ben Goldacre writes about invalid and misleading 'science' in the Guardian. Here's his report on the statistics behind a recent press story that reported illegal downloading to involve 120 billion pounds worth of material."
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Lies, Damned Lies, and the UK Copyright Industry

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 07, 2009 @02:20AM (#28239491)
    It's the scumbags like RIAA gives lies a bad name. Lies keep marriage in tact, family together, friendship, gov't, you name it. Along comes RIAA and ruins lie's good name. Shame.
  • Oh, really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by G-forze ( 1169271 ) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @02:21AM (#28239501)

    Big surprise. Everything that has come from this industry has been at best broad guesstimates, at worst intentionally spread lies. Trying to explain the demise of an obsolete business model without taking the obvious into account is hard!

    • Re:Oh, really? (Score:5, Informative)

      by siloko ( 1133863 ) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @03:04AM (#28239635)
      Classic coup de grâce in the article: "Like I said: as far as I'm concerned, everything from this industry is false, until proven otherwise." Why are industry statistics still endlessly repeated in the media? It makes you wonder what market the newspapers using these fabricated stats are aiming for, because the majority of filesharers would laugh into their porridge at the thought of buying every film, track and OS they downloaded!
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by wisty ( 1335733 )

        There are bound to be other examples of industry statistics being made up, then propagated through the media, and finally put out in a government policy report.

        Remember the housing shortage?

        • by Haeleth ( 414428 )

          Oh, indeed. But this particular industry has been putting out nothing but misleading statistics for decades, now, and the policy reports they end up in have produced some of the worst laws ever written, ultimately preventing large numbers of people from doing perfectly legitimate things with products they have bought and paid for.

          Now there's a risk that the media industry's lies are going to result in yet another round of laws that further restrict the freedom of law-abiding people, while still doing nothi

      • Re:Oh, really? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Philip_the_physicist ( 1536015 ) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @06:44AM (#28240259)
        The Sun is a Murdoch rag. The question is then not why they publish this nonsense, but how he benefits from doing so.
      • Re:Oh, really? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Scrameustache ( 459504 ) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @05:54PM (#28244465) Homepage Journal

        Why are industry statistics still endlessly repeated in the media?

        Because that industy owns those medias.

    • Re:Oh, really? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Znork ( 31774 ) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @05:03AM (#28239961)

      Of course, by making up unlikely numbers they divert attention from the even more insidious propaganda buried in the claim.

      It's not money _lost_, it's money _saved_.

      Downloading _saves_ the economy £120 Billion.

      The money that doesn't get spent on media doesn't magically disappear. It's spent on other things instead. Jobs aren't lost, in fact, I'd wager the money saved creates more jobs in the local economy than money to the media industry which to a large extent doesn't go towards labour intensive activity, and in many cases simply goes out of the country.

      • by houghi ( 78078 ) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @06:07AM (#28240159)

        It always reminds me of a friend who tells he saved 1EUR by running after the bus instead of taking it. I always say he is an idiot and he should run after a taxi. That way he would save much more.

        • Does he get the bus everyday? If you take a bus almost every day, and then one day you decide to walk instead - it would make sense to talk about the money you saved during those times you decided against taking it.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by noidentity ( 188756 )

          It always reminds me of a friend who tells he saved 1EUR by running after the bus instead of taking it. I always say he is an idiot and he should run after a taxi. That way he would save much more.

          You're both dumb; I run after airplanes and save a bundle (and don't have to wait for hours getting strip-searched).

        • Best. Post. Ever.
      • by mdwh2 ( 535323 ) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @06:52AM (#28240291) Journal

        Exactly - this is basically the parable of the broken window [wikipedia.org]. Also see: http://notnews.today.com/2009/06/06/downloading-keeping-billions-inside-the-uk/ [today.com] .

        Of course, I'm not surprised that the RIAA twist the truth, but to hear Government advisers [bbc.co.uk] falling for the fallacy? Either they are ignorant of basic economics, or they are intentionally being deceitful on economic matters. Either way, it's no wonder the economy is going down the tubes.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Zumbs ( 1241138 )
        Except, off cause, that the study were referenced wrong in the press releases. From TFA:

        Oh, but the figures were wrong: it was actually 473m items and £12bn (so the item value was still £25) but the wrong figures were in the original executive summary, and the press release. They changed them quietly, after the errors were pointed out by a BBC journalist.

        When asked why they did not take steps to notify journalists of the error, they first tried to avoid answering, but they

        ...explained something about how they couldn't be held responsible for lazy journalism, then, bizarrely, after 10 minutes, tried to tell me retrospectively that the call was off the record,

        They do sound very trustworthy!

      • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

        by abigsmurf ( 919188 )

        That's a horrible approach to economics and simply isn't true.

        Imagine you've a city of 100,000 or so where 90% of people earn their money working at a massive copper or supplying that copper mine. Imagine demand for copper falls by half and they have to cut production (and jobs) by half to remain profitable.

        In terms of GDP copper mining may be something like 0.1% and it wouldn't seem like that would have a huge effect if it went down to 0.05% of GDP.

        In that town though, there are now 45,000 out of work, peo

    • Re:Oh, really? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by TheTurtlesMoves ( 1442727 ) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @09:36AM (#28240903)

      Trying to explain the demise of an obsolete business model..

      The movie Dark knight cost about 185 million to make and took in a total revenue of over 1billion. Thats more than five times the original investment. Iron Man cost 140 million and made over 500 million. Transformers cost 151 million and made over 700 million. The list goes on.

      That does not look like a demise of an industry to me. That looks like bloody good business. You can find similar statistics for music, however its somewhat harder to do. For example black eyed peas "Monkey Business" sold about 300k copies in its first week alone.

      I think obsolete does not mean what you think it means.

      • Re:Oh, really? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by cliffski ( 65094 ) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @10:41AM (#28241249) Homepage

        indeed. its money for old rope. Absolutely everyone who produces entertianment content is a millioanire and lives in a gold plated house.
        No movie, game or tv show ever lost money, and we are all just pretendind that piracy costs people jobs.
        In fact, the absolute guarntee of a 500% ROI is a genuine fact, despite the fact that this is in complete contravention of basic high school economics, because if it were true, you, and every other slashdotter would be falling over themselves to start up movie studios.


    • Re:Oh, really? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Brave Guy ( 457657 ) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @09:59AM (#28241017)

      Trying to explain the demise of an obsolete business model without taking the obvious into account is hard!

      You could start by explaining what alternative you propose, if the current model is "obsolete" and its flaws are "obvious".

      You can certainly criticise some of the current pricing, aggressive legal strategies and industry propaganda. However, you can't deny that ultimately, it does cost a lot of money to make movies, software, etc., and that some of these products are valued by a lot of people. Moreover, there has to be some return on investment for those who back the successful projects, because a lot of the others make big losses, and no-one would back a new project if the best it was going to do was break even. This is basic economics, and the fact that the marginal cost of distributing a work can be close to zero in the Internet age is not the whole equation.

  • Full story (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 07, 2009 @02:22AM (#28239507)

    Full article is posted on Ben's blog at http://www.badscience.net/2009/06/home-taping-didnt-kill-music/ (sorry Ben for the slashdotting) - the guardian tends to remove bits of his writing in print/on their website (for space reasons I assume).

    • Re:Full story (Score:5, Interesting)

      by deglr6328 ( 150198 ) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @03:33AM (#28239731)

      There's several videos floating around with him too that are definitely worth watching [youtube.com]. He is a very sharp mind and it pleases me greatly to see his urgently needed skeptical analysis getting the press coverage it so thoroughly deserves.

  • "Ben Goldacre writes about invalid and misleading 'science' in the Guardian ... behind a recent press story that reported illegal downloading to involve 120 billion pounds worth of material."

    Everyone knows bits don't weigh anything!
    Those Brits better get with it, the correct unit of measure is LoC - Libraries of Congress!

    • Everyone knows bits don't weigh anything!

      How perfectly ridiculous! Every bit in a binary number has a weight. Furthermore, every bit you add doubles the weight, so while a single zero or one may only weigh a little bit, every one you add to that will weigh a bit more. It's very easy to see how these sorts of things could add up.

      • Do we describe that in gb, gram bits?

    • by Faylone ( 880739 )
      Wait, do Brits use Libraries of Parliament?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by sa1lnr ( 669048 )

      Everyone knows we Brits have our very own esoteric units of measurement.

      http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/08/24/vulture_central_standards/ [theregister.co.uk]

    • Surely it should be measured in British Libraries or National Libraries of Scotland etc rather than Libraries of Congress?

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        Surely it should be measured in British Libraries or National Libraries of Scotland etc rather than Libraries of Congress?

        Nope. None of that weird metric shit.

  • An advisory board formed in just 2008 [sabip.org.uk] is still wet behind the ears. The UK is relying on a revolving door advisory panel. It's a shite state of affairs.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Znork ( 31774 )

      Well, it's got an interesting mission:

      Our mission is to

      * Provide strategic, independent and evidence-based advice to Government on intellectual property policy, covering all types of intellectual property rights

      It could start by procuring some actual scientific evidence around the economic effects of intellectual 'property'. Research, comparisons, even simulations of various forms of models of systems would be nice. There is plenty of evidence that intellectual 'property' is, in

  • Lost? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by WillKemp ( 1338605 ) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @02:28AM (#28239531) Homepage

    I just read TFA in the paper (yeah, i'll hand my geek card in on the way out...) and it struck me that the most important thing that he doesn't mention is that there's no evidence that anyone downloading a pirate copy of anything would actually buy it if they couldn't download it for free. Therefore nothing is actually lost.

    My guess is that 99% of the stuff "illegally" downloaded would never actually be bought if it wasn't there to download.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I just read TFA in the paper (yeah, i'll hand my geek card in on the way out...) and it struck me that the most important thing that he doesn't mention is that there's no evidence that anyone downloading a pirate copy of anything would actually buy it if they couldn't download it for free. Therefore nothing is actually lost.

      I don't know. I have hundreds of CDs and enjoy having a CD collection, but these days I prefer to just download whatever I want to listen to and use the money I've saved on other things

      • But what do you spend your thousands of dollars a year on now that you aren't spending them on CDs?

        I spend my hundreds of pounds on concert tickets and cinema tickets.

    • Re:Lost? (Score:5, Informative)

      by FailedTheTuringTest ( 937776 ) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @02:55AM (#28239613)

      The comments to TFA (I guess I'm not a real ./er either) include links to a properly rigorous academic study (and some news articles) that shows that downloaders spend more money, not less: for every CD downloaded, they buy 0.4 additional CDs. The study's authors also "find evidence that purchases of other forms of entertainment such as cinema and concert tickets, and video games tend to increase with music purchases."

      http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/ippd-dppi.nsf/eng/ip01457.html [ic.gc.ca]
      http://arstechnica.com/old/content/2006/03/6418.ars [arstechnica.com]
      http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/4718249.stm [bbc.co.uk]

      • That study successfully showed that people who download a lot also buy a lot (presumably because of their high interest in music). But, it doesn't really answer the question we all want to know- "In the absence of filesharing, would these people have bought more or less music than they did?"

        Someone needs to do a randomized test where they take N music consumers and split them into two groups: one that gets a $20 allowance (no strings attached), and another that gets a $20 allowance contingent on an enforc

        • Someone needs to do a randomized test where they take N music consumers and split them into two groups: one that gets a $20 allowance (no strings attached), and another that gets a $20 allowance contingent on an enforceable pledge not to download music. Perhaps they could even expand the pledge a bit to disguise the intention of the study... At the end of a period of time, count up the value of purchases made, and tell us whether there was a statistically different measurement.

          I'd be more intersted in this study if Apple hadn't sold >100 million songs on iTunes.

          Then again, I work with something like 20 people who all make good money and all know how to go find stuff (music, movies, games, etc) and 'consume' it rather easily. Of those 20, only one I know does it because he's actively trying not to spend money.

          I'm already convinced by my anecdotal experience and the utter and complete lack of proof of the alledged damages being done. It's hard to take the RIAA seriously when t

      • Or maybe, people who download are naturally people with an interest in music/movies/games and would spend more on these things anyway? Perhaps if they did a comparison between movie lovers who download movies and those who don't it would be a fair study.

        Someone who downloads a lot of movies/games/music is someone with an active interest. You are comparing a randomised sample (general population of buyers) to the spending habbits of a relatively non random, selective population. If the study was carried out

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jd ( 1658 )

      Yes, but since there's no way of knowing how much was actually illegal material in the first place, we have no way of knowing how to weight that remaining 1%. Since there are non-zero legal downloads (no matter how few), the real figure must be strictly less than this by an unquantifiable amount.

    • Yes, that's correct. Which means in "corporate speak" there would be a %1 increase in sales if there aren't downloads available. Which is why the companies want downloading to stop. Even the %1 is a pretty hefty sum of money.
      • Is that 1% more than they spend on lawyer fees and god awful commercials and all the other crap they do to try to stop the unstoppable?
    • I know I for one am like that. I'll download an album from a band because a friend said they were good, but I wouldn't buy it. I'll download a ton of T.V. shows, but I'd just watch them on cable when they were on, or heaven forbid use a VCR to record the shows so I can watch them when I want. How about the porn industry too? How many people download a 4GB movie only to find out they don't like it and download something else? They probably would be much much less likely to buy because they would have to eith
      • Exactly. The only sensible solution is to make it all really cheap and DRM-free. That way people can share it - which encourages people to buy stuff as soon as it's available so they can be first to share the latest cool stuff with their mates.

      • by Bert64 ( 520050 )

        That's the issue, you download a 4gb movie and find that you don't like it, so you delete it.
        They would rather you bought it, thus wasting your money before you realized it's crap. They also don't like the fact that modern communications such as the internet and sms messages allow people to spread the word about a lousy movie.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      They also conveniently don't take into account the sales they receive when someone actually likes what they've downloaded enough to go buy the CD/DVD/Whatever. It's all a black pity hole of lost sales...
  • by Edward Nardella ( 1503565 ) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @02:36AM (#28239557)
    People don't spend less money because they get something that they would have payed for for free, they just spend it on something else.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by jd ( 1658 )

      Take Microsoft, for example.

    • An individual may spend their money on something else. What exactly is the person who has lost their job and has no money going to be spending?

      Even if they are able to quickly get a job in a different industry (a big ask for people with specialised jobs) they'll have still been unemployed for a while and not spending much during that time.

  • by msgmonkey ( 599753 ) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @02:40AM (#28239571)

    And there I was thinking it was the credit crunch that has caused our economic problems, it's obvious now that the real problem are the millions of teenage girls downloading britney spears albums (or who ever is in at the moment).

  • So they added up all the bittorent users, multiplied the figure by 25, and assumed that was the total cost to the economy.

    I'm sure the Blender team would LOVE to receive 25 pounds ($40) for every download of each and every one of their movies. Ms. Boyle would doubtless be substantially richer if she were given the same for every person who had ever downloaded (or watched on YouTube) a clip of her singing. More members of Ubuntu might be able to play space tourist if each and every file (whether it be a CD, DVD or just a patch) resulted in a $40 donation. Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails would be over the moon if each individual song they've released for free got them that in checks received via fan mail.

    I'm not saying that all the legit material added together make a substantial chunk of the corrected figure, but rather that the researchers never bothered to consider the fact that the material is not of equal value and that some items have a value of zero. They assumed everything was illegal and everything had identical worth.

    That goes beyond Bad Science. How many of you, in elementary/primary school, got taught algebra by being given shopping lists? Pretty much everyone? Good. It would be a pointless exercise if apples and oranges had the same price ($40 each), so we can assume your class used different prices for different object, right? Right. So. Hands up who can tell me what you could do then that these researchers didn't do now?

    • by arkhan_jg ( 618674 ) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @06:58AM (#28240317)

      Actually, they added up all the bittorrent users on one file in the afternoon, waved some magic fairly dust to extrapolate that to everyone for a year, multiplied the figure by £25 as the 'average' price per file, and then multipled *that* figure by 10 (from £12 billion to £120 billion) in the press release by accident, then quietly changed it when challenged by a BBC reporter. Not that they issued a retraction.

      It's such a useless figure for anything it's laughable. Well, apart from whipping up a moral panic in the government so they pass yet more draconian legislation forcing ISPs to act as some sort of panopticon against their own userbase at their own cost. I'm sure it's pretty good at that.

  • More than seven million Britons use illegal downloading sites that keep billions of pounds circulating inside the British economy rather than being sent overseas to US media companies or obscure tax havens, despite almost everything on offer being appalling rubbish no sane person would pay a penny for, according to unnamed researchers copying a passing number found in a 2004 press release [today.com] from music industry lawyers trying to drum up business.

    Intellectual Property Minister David Lammy said the report brought home the impact illegal downloads had on the UK economy as a whole. "If we take as read the music industry's assumption that every download is a lost sale, then billions of pounds are freed up for ordinary people to spend of things of actual economic substance to keep local businesses healthy, rather than chasing phantom pseudo-value from things that have an inherent cost of production of zero. This makes the whole economy more efficient and lets money go where it is actually useful, rather than to Bono's numbered account in the Virgin Islands."

    The government says it will be hard to change attitudes to free downloading, particularly from the entrenched old media parasites. "Studies consistently show that downloaders buy more music. We have to stop this and get them downloading dodgy rips from BitTorrent, rather than official high-quality versions from iTunes."

    The report also noted that new, faster broadband services could increase file-sharing, which was already more than half of net traffic in the UK. The ISPs modestly declined credit for their part in helping Britain's financial future, noting that it was their customers, the great British public, who had voted with their browsers to do the hard work of keeping the country afloat.

    • Nicely done, except that music doesn't - and movies most certainly don't - have "an inherent cost of production of zero". Sharing cannot be wrong, and kicking the old media gatekeepers out of the arena cannot happen hard enough or fast enough, but there needs to be some way to share the cost as well as the benefit of the things we love to download for free.

      • Cost of reproduction, or marginal cost. Economics terms are not quite English.
        • But getting people to pay for CDs was a way of recouping studio costs, and the cost of sustaining the artist while they were creating the music - plus a little towards the relatively low (economic) cost of mass-producing CDs. Now that there is no reason for people to buy CDs, some other means has to be found to keep artists alive while they create, or just accept that the era of the professional musician is over.

          • by Znork ( 31774 )

            But getting people to pay for CDs was a way of recouping studio costs

            It's always easy to accumulate costs; that's basically the main disadvantage of monopolies versus free market competition.

            With today's technology advances the actual costs needed to produce an album are approaching zero as well; the rest of the supported costs, release parties, free samples, payola, other marketing, free blow to the execs, etc, are not necessary for producing the product and would not occur in a competitive market.

            some oth

          • by Bert64 ( 520050 )

            But now it's a way of ripping off the public, ensuring that the artist and even moreso the production company executives can live a life of luxury far above the true value of the work they do.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by mpe ( 36238 )
            Now that there is no reason for people to buy CDs, some other means has to be found to keep artists alive while they create,

            There's a difference between keeping them alive and keeping them (plus a crowd of hangers on) rich.

            or just accept that the era of the professional musician is over.

            Plenty of musicians are not "professional musicians" in the first place. It's also perfectly possible for musicians to provide live entertainment as a sole means of income.
  • by Alan R Light ( 1277886 ) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @04:50AM (#28239935)

    So, the first number was off by a factor of ten, not counting the silly estimate of 25 Pounds when even 2.5 Pounds was doubtless too much - meaning that the original number was off by at least a factor of one hundred.

    Still nothing compared to what government and government-related groups can come up with to scare people. Anyone remember how we were all told in the '80s that 1.5 million children were kidnapped each year in the United States, when the real relevant figure (kidnappings by strangers) was closer to 150? That was off by a factor of 10,000.

    And how about those Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq? We're going to find them any day now.

    Yes, what this proves to us once again is that as bad and unethical as industry can be, they still can't compete with government and the do-gooders.

    • by siddesu ( 698447 )

      True observation, but the *AA companies are a part of the propaganda arm of the big scary government, just as the big weapons manufacturers are a part of the war machine of the same government. They are not "better" or "worse", they are the same thing ;)

  • Competition (Score:2, Interesting)

    by namgge ( 777284 )

    Goldacre could have strengthened his analysis even further by considering the decline in entertainment industry revenue due to competition: not from downloads, but from social change. My parent's generation had no money and few options so they spent a lot of their spare time playing cards and reading books from the public library. In my day, a whole culture had developed around vinyl records, and they were the catalyst for most of a young person's social life. These days, young people spend roughly the same

  • According to the article, the "lost income" from a downloaded movie is about £.40 (the rental price of the movie), which seems a bit high - a postal video-rental account at tesco or lovefilm costs about £1.50 per DVD rented (plus they're spending £0.50 of bandwidth to download it, which is money going into the British economy and supporting the government's broadband strategy).

    However, these figures (assisted by the assumption that every file downloaded from a "file-sharing site" is a co

    • "According to the article, the "lost income" from a downloaded movie is about £.40" - should have said £2.40

  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @07:33AM (#28240429)

    Slightly offtopic, I admit it, but please read it regardless.

    "Lies, damn lies and statistics". "Don't trust statistics you didn't forge yourself". "70% of statistics are made up, 80% of all people know that".

    And so on.

    There's a reason for those jokes, and it's shoddy statistics. Often, it's not even malice, it's simple inaptness. Ok, far too often it's also malice. Numbers are just too impressive, and they have authority. People believe them. They are regarded as "hard facts". They are not "a lot", they're not "a few", they are a million, a billion, and so on.

    Funny about it is, though, that people believe those statistics. Not much differently than they believe the fuzzy "a few" and "a lot" statements. Because they're unable to test them. Even if it is as easy to throw the "numbers" out the window as in this example. 25 pounds "damage" per infringment. Nuts? 25 pounds ain't even what a current blockbuster costs when you buy it on DVD (legally, ok? Not talking about those flying Chinese traders where you know you're buying a bootleg copy). But did anyone care to check?

    Probably no. It was numbers. It was hard facts. Hey, they wouldn't dare to release information like this if they didn't fact check, do they?

    Heh. It was printed in the SUN. Dunno about you, but I've made up my mind about the fact checking abilities of their reporters...

    Anyway. It does hurt to see my original trade being abused that way. I'm a statistician, at least according to my degree. I was, and still am, fascinated with the ability to aggregate a whole lot of samples into a simple, understandable statement. Statistics can serve a valuable purpose if, and only if, they are used sensibly and earnestly. And NOT "creatively".

    So here's a little guide how to use statistics and how to gauge their credibility:

    If you don't get to see the sample or don't get any information about how the sample was gathered, throw it to the dump. I can easily "prove" that every single listener to music buys it and that no copying is going on if I pick my sample "right". It's easy to "prove" every computer gamer is a potential addict if I only look at people playing 10+ hours a day. If you don't get told what's the source of the data and what data they worked with, chances are good that the whole deal is rigged.

    If it's a "voluntary", "opt-in" sample, throw it out. All those statistics based on online questionaires where people can sign up and go to to fill out forms if they're "interested enough" are worthless. You'll get samples filled out by people who have a strong opinion about the subject already. When there is an online questionaire regarding "too much internet use", what kind of answers do you expect to get? Worse, what kind of people do you think will participate at all? It's a rigged sample from the start.

    If you don't get to see the sample size, throw it out. The sample size gives you a fairly good idea how much of an error you may expect. 1/N^2 is a good rule of thumb (with N being the sample size) for the statistical error. That doesn't mean that a small sample automatically leads to a huge error margin, 200 samples may be already good enough if they are picked well, and if they're not "hand picked" (see above).

    If you don't get to see a mean, a median and a standard deviation, throw it out. It's easy to prove that everyone's doing quite fine on average, even in this economy, because on average everyone has enough money to live well. The mean says so (the "average"). Without standard deviation, you won't get to see that the average is nothing but an artificial number that has no reflection in reality. It's not that everyone has the average, there's some who have a TON more and many that have a LOT less. The median would easily tell you so (that's the "middle number" of the sample). Comparing mean ("average") and median ("middle") tells you a lot about whether your sample was homogenous or whether you have a few VERY different bits in the sample (which should have been cut from the stati

    • The error is more like 1/sqrt(N), not 1/N^2.

      It would be nice if twice as many people was four times as accurate instead of the other way around, though.

If a subordinate asks you a pertinent question, look at him as if he had lost his senses. When he looks down, paraphrase the question back at him.