Saturday, February 12, 2011

Any research conducted by media is a and enjoy but dont believe

Conducting fraudulent research to prove a point is a scam practiced routinely by media. Take the story in today's paper. A research done across the eight major markets in India shows how angry people are with the government. They blame the government for the inflation and believe that corruption is at its highest ever. Since the research is done by a professional agency, an impression is sought to be made that the findings are fair and unbiased. But the reality? It's a scam!

The title of the story is "India angry....blames government for corruption, inflation". The focus of the title clearly is on scoring a political point. An impression is made that people racked their brains for the reasons for the inflation and that they all concurred that it was the government's fault. However, the reality is totally different. In reality, respondents are never asked what they think about a question. They are always presented a set of options and are asked to choose one of them. By tweaking the options, the desired result can be obtained! Let me prove this with a simple example. Suppose, the question is: Who do you blame for the inflation? And the options presented are 1) The government 2) external factors. Chances are that most people will blame the government. But suppose the options presented were 1) More money in the hands of people and 2) Disruption in supplies of important no matter what you vote for, you dont blame the government! The second set of options is what should be presented.....but the results would hardly be interesting! Anyone who has done research in his life knows that framing the questions correctly is critical to getting the right results......results that would aid decision making. But here, the objective of the research is to prove a point.....adding a little mirch-masala to the content. It's a scam!

Now consider the findings themselves. Who do you blame for inflation? One of the options is Government. Now can you think of any situation where the responsdent wont blame the government. For so long now, the media has been blaming the government for inflation. Now it asks a question on the same subject. What answer do you expect to get? Its like a school teacher telling the students  every day for a full year that the Principal of the school is corrupt (without proving it). And then at the end of the year she asks who is corrupt.....what answer do you think you would get?! Just because the answer is "Principal" does not prove that the Principal is indeed corrupt. It only proves that the teacher is out to get the this case, media is out to get the government!

Even if this wasnt the agenda of media, honestly think.....who would you blame for ANYTHING in the country? If the roads have pot holes, surely you wont blame your local dentist! Since independence, we have been conditioned to blame the government for EVERYTHING. So no big deal really in the findings of this research.

Here's another common trick. Questions which help filter the respondents views better are intentionally not asked. Or if asked, the results are not shown. For eg., if you were asked a question: Why did you buy an AC this year? Chances are that a majority of the people will say because it was very hot this summer. Now there is nothing wrong with this answer. But an astute researcher will then probe a little further: But wasnt it equally hot last year? Why didnt you buy the AC last year? Then the respondent may give the real reason.....he/she may say that actually, this year I got a bonus and I thought I will buy an AC. See how probing helps in getting the real answer?! But in the research on inflation.....the subsequent question that should have been asked was not asked: Do you think that the BJP government could have controlled inflation better? After all, if the context of the research was political, the question should have been asked. If it had been asked, my bet is that the results would have been a mixed bag! It would be a split verdict. In fact, I suspect the results would pretty much reflect the political views of the respondent and hence reflect the relative support levels of the two parties. If you were a BJP supporter, you would say: Yes the BJP would have controlled inflation better. But if you were a Congress supporter, you would say No. I am accusing media of intentionally not probing further if it does not suit their objective: in this case, that of docking the government.

One last point.....have we as a country EVER believed that corruption was not at the highest level???? So what does this research prove. Nothing!

The real truth is that such researches are all scams. They are conducted with the intention of adding masala to newspaper and TV content. The results should be read and enjoyed but never believed or taken seriously. If a similar research had been conducted in 2009, similar results may have come out. And yet, the Congress went ahead and won the elections held that year! People decide on who to vote for by looking at how their own life has improved in the last five years. So people may agree that there is inflation, but they may also feel (and they will never admit this in any research) that they have more money in their hands. And they may vote again for the ruling party.

Using research to prove a point is an old media scam. Almost as old as corruption itself!

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