Monday, October 15, 2007

Stupid Statistic of the Week: Spit Swapping

A quick, cheap, and simple way to manufacture news is to create a survey and publish the results.

Quick, cheap and simple it may be, but it is definitely not original: I counted 230 surveys on Business Wire just over the last 24 hours. My favorite this week is from the American Dental Association that shows 44% of Americans "are swapping spit" by sharing their toothbrush, some kind of national calamity it would seem. Apparently, 54% also report they'd use their toothbrush even if they dropped it on the floor. The same ADA also reported medical research suggesting how E.coli gets on a toothbrush and thence multiplies and is transferred to your mouth - disgusting stuff, I'll save you by omitting the link.

The PR goal here is presumably to enhance the public's understanding of oral hygiene, but this conflicts with the journalistic goal of manufacturing an amusing and titillating headline. The consequent news coverage can work in the right setting, but too often undermines the intended objective or diminishes the other, more serious intentions of the organisation behind the news.

More stupid stats in later posts - please send me suggestions.

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