I got an email last night from Mountain West Research asking me to take a survey. It's a survey about California, its politics, the upcoming election and technology as an economic factor in California. Because I always complain about the statistics touted by talking heads that originate from surveys–often saying things like, "There's no way that
many people prefer vanilla ice cream to chocolate!"–I try to complete every legitimate survey that comes my way. You can't complain about the president if you don't vote, so, it stands to reason that you can't complain about shoddy statistics if you don't complete surveys, right?
The reason is because 93% of statistics are complete BS. See? There's a BS statistic right there! Seriously, though, there are lots of issues with surveys and the questioning methodology that lead to bad stats. The image above demonstrates a couple of big ones.
First of all, this is the most leading question I've ever read. The question should read something like, "Are you proud of California's participation in the tech sector in the past?" Instead, it paints a picture of California as a global leader in tech; it mentions the biggest success stories in tech (and none of the failures); it portrays tech as an economic boon to the states (and fails to mention that little bubble we had a few years back).
Is California a leader in tech? Sure. Am I proud? Absolutely, but don't make those who might otherwise say "No" feel foolish for doing so right there in the question! That's just bad data-gathering!
The second thing I hate about surveys like this is that there is no room for ambiguity. I think that it's probably fair to say that there are a lot of Californians that are neither bursting with pride nor filled with shame about California's history in the tech sector. Let's say you're one of these people. How do you answer? Do you choose "No" because, specifically, the emotion of pride does not adequately express the way you feel about tech in California? Do you say "Yes" because, now that you think about it, you guess it is
kind of cool that Google is a California company, even though you never thought about it at all before? Why is there no third option for "no strong feelings" for this question?
I don't know for certain, however, based on the survey questions and the name of the firm (Mountain West Research), I'm pretty sure that the folks behind this survey are hoping for positive sentiments about the tech sector in California. Mountain West, CA, after all, is home to Google's main campus and next door to other Silicon Valley giants mentioned in this question. The sad truth is that, for the most part, all surveys come from biased origins because only people with a bias actually care enough to fund and distribute the survey in the first place. So, anytime you see opinion polls like this, just remember to take the statistics delivered with a grain of salt. My guess is that 19% of you will take my advice, 33% of you will ignore it, 35% of you feel like you didn't need it in the first place and 13% of you will go overboard and take such results with two or more grains of salt. I can't be sure though; I'm still waiting for the results of my survey to come back.