Are these numbers inflated?

Posted on: 04/14/09 12:07 PM | by Jonathan McKee

We’ve been hearing a whole lot of hype about “sexting” and stats in the news lately. Today I found a fascinating article giving us a little bit of “behind the scenes” on some of these polls.

First we heard about the huge numbers of kids involved in this sexting trend; then we heard from “experts” saying we shouldn’t worry. That prompted my Youth Culture Window article on the subject this week, Fact or Fiction. After all… who can we believe?

In my article I provided three suggestions for you when navigating the world of statistics and percentages, one of those being “looking how the study was done.” 

Today I stumbled across an article from last week’s Wall Street Journal that gave further insight about how these studies were done, specifically the validity of “online polls” and the type of audience that might draw.

Just a snippet:

“These kinds of samples select Internet cowboys and cowgirls,” says David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, who has used the telephone for his studies of teens and online behavior. “These are more likely to be the kind of people who engage in this kind of activity.” He guesses that online poll-takers might be two to four times more likely to send nude photos of themselves than the average teen.

Funny… most of the “experts” who were already “doubting” that sexting was a real problem (such as in this article) … most of them failed to make this observation, one that I think would have been a valid argument for their side.

The Wall Street Journal article goes on to suggest that alternate methods such as phone or snail mail might be more representative of the whole of teenagers. But the researchers who did the online poll plead their case, saying, “Who the hell answers a telephone survey these days, especially if you’re a teen on Mom and Dad’s landline phones?”  🙂

Fascinating stuff. I encourage you to check out the whole article here.

One Reply to “Are these numbers inflated?”

  1. Yes, the online poll takers have a point, but that doesn’t change the point the article makes. Any statistician/poll taker worth his salt will figure out a way to make the survey accurate. If not, he should get out of the business.

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