I Love Bad Data

July 13, 2017 | By Paul Mackenzie Ross | Filed in: philosophy, politics, random.

I love bad data

As a digital marketer and copywriter, I love bad data… NOT.

When I have to look at web traffic, organic visits, pay per click, social media… I look at the data.

When I write a report… I look at and present the data.

Writing a blog post or news article? You have to look at the data.

You see, the thing about data is that it is fact. You can mess around with and misrepresent it all you like, but there’s no denying that you will be found out, laughed at, kicked and shown up for what you are.

The thing that spiked my ire tonight was stumbling across a petition to End the BBC licence fee. Now, I’m a firm believer that everyone is entitled to their opinion, no matter how laughable some of them may be. I may well disagree with the odd odd person (Yes, I said that twice) but nobody is entitled to their own facts.

This petition is a good example.

“There’s been considerable public dissatisfaction for quite some time: 
– 70% stated that the BBC licence fee should be abolished or cut according to an ICM poll for The Sunday Telegraph in 2013.”

Firstly, “70% stated”… 70% what? 70% of the public? Which public? The British public? Or 70% of those polled? The petition did not refer to any sources but I will. I found this article in The Telegraph entitled BBC licence fee should be cut or scrapped, poll finds. from 2103. The article refers to “70% of voters”.  I’m connecting the dots here, so it’s all looking peachy, right? 70% of which voters, though? 70% of the electoral roll? Or 70% of the average 65% voter turnout? Even the mighty Telegraph and its professional journalism are not clear here.

Well, the piece goes on to say that 49% of those questioned in a poll for The Sunday Telegraph said the Licence fee should be abolished. In addition, a further 21% said it should be reduced. So it’s 70% of people questioned by a poll and not 70% of the public. So the petition is misleading. And so is The Telegraph.

Furthermore, trying to extrapolate data from a single poll for a right-wing newspaper, is not representative of British public opinion.

For example – I use Google Analytics to monitor website traffic data. For one client I can see that a little under 2% of organic traffic was for their brand name. Well, not quite. You see, when people are logged in to their Google accounts their search requests are not recorded so I actually see the “not provided” result at 88% of all organic traffic. I could assume that 2% of what I am able to see equates to the same proportion of traffic in what I am unable to see, but that is a dangerous supposition.

Maybe it really is just 2% of traffic, maybe those logged in are not the sort of people who would look for the brand.  We just really don’t know. Looking at landing page traffic, it shows that 28% of visits in the same time period went straight to the homepage. So does that mean that 28% of visitors are looking for the brand?

Again, we just don’t know.

So this highlights just how dodgy it is to make assumptions.

Let’s go back to the petition…

When I looked at it tonight, the petition had 228,296 of 300,000 signatures. Wow, they’re nearly there. 300,000 signatories is some significant figure, it means… well, I don’t know. Is it an arbitrary figure? Is this the number required to ensure the petition has enough significance that it is discussed in Parliament? I don’t know.

But think about this…

I had a look to see how many TV licences there are in this country. According to the TV Licencing authorities own figures, there are over 25 million licences “in force” in the UK on the years 2014-2015. If “70% stated” that they want the TV Licencing fee abolished or reduced, then shouldn’t there be at least 21 million people signing that petition?

Again, I’m making an assumption here – that 70% of TV licence owning Jo/e Public are so dissatisfied that they will vote in a poll, right? That’s a far cry from the 228,000 tonight, in fact, that’s way out by a factir of something like 50:1 – that is WAY out…

So yeah, I’ll say it again… I love bad data.



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