Something really annoying just happened – again. This time I will use it as an example and make the effort to write about it, so I can refer people to this article in the future – probably time and time again.
Before I get to the example itself, let me say this:
Lazy thinking destroys lifes
… and creates a world of stupidity.
- I dislike lazy, fuzzy thinking.
- I don’t particularly appreciate the media broadcasting it.
- I think smart people should at least not support it.
In other words: Think, please!
It’s a Gremlin – don’t feed it (after midnight)
This appeared on my Twitter timeline the other day:
According to a recent study, 1 in 10 Americans surveyed thought HTML was an STD http://t.co/Wl9Oc3VF85
— Jodi Ettenberg (@legalnomads) March 6, 2014
When I read Max’s reply in the morning, I was finally reminded that this is total BS.
I realized we all had fallen for it. I felt an urge to correct this.
No, that’s not what this means ( , stupid )
Are we really that gullible, Jodi, Max, and me? Unfortunately, yes. It’s human.
If you hear or read the phrase “According to a recent study” or “study finds“, crank up your critical thinking. More often than not, it’s a good idea to raise a few questions.
So, let’s look at the statement in question, the headline of the Los Angeles Times article:
1 in 10 Americans think HTML is an STD, study finds
Do they?! I don’t think so.
What isn’t good for headlines (that are pimped and intended to go viral) but would be actually closer to the “facts” is:
I a two-page multiple choice email survey (named “Tech Confusions”, which should already give away the intention towards possible “findings”) invented by a PR company and conducted by a coupon website, participants were asked what “HTML” is.
Given three choices (which means it wasn’t an open question as in “What is HTML?”) 79 % correctly answered “Programming language used to make websites”, 11 % “Sexually-transmitted disease”, and 10 % “The main road structure throughout England”.
The plain results are:
21 % of the people participating in the survey didn’t know what HTML is.
79 % nailed it.
Given that I have no further details on the demographics, I guess that isn’t really surprising. Similar numbers could easily come up if you ask people what “MRI” is (and that despite the huge popularity of medical drama TV shows like House, M.D.).
But what unethical about it is …
There is a difference between the results and their interpretation, let alone a malicious distortion to achieve hype.
The statement “1 in 10 Americans think HTML is an STD” is just false.
You just can’t say that kind of BS. It’s misleading. It strongly implies a scenario in which all Americans were asked
“What do you think is HTML?”
and every tenth person replied:
“HTML is a sexually-transmitted disease.”
Let’s call it what it is: Bullshit
Please, guys, we are not that stupid, are we? Let’s think first, please.
And now, that we have realized we have fallen for media BS, let’s correct it.