John Sherry
Feb 29 · 2 min read

One of the persistent struggles we have at our college is getting journalism students to understand that facts count, even in opinion pieces. Attributing Mr. Devore’s opinions to ‘science’ is the worst kind of status-borrowing, particularly in the case where the author did not understand what the ‘science’ means.

First- the cited article is not science. It is a report from a marketing survey. There is no evidence in the article that either the marketers who collected the data or the researchers who wrote up the article were either objective or had any intention of understanding human behavior.

Second, the conclusions drawn are not supported by the statistics reported. 1) The measures of personality traits were so low in reliability that there was certainly more error than clarity in the results. 2) No personality trait was correlated with status car ownership. In fact, 3 of five correlations were r = .00 (the other two being r = -0.03 and 0.04). Even when the effects of sex (not ‘gender’ BTW) and age are removed, there is still no correlation. 3) Failing to find any effects, the researchers jacked up the statistical manipulation by using logistic regression with interaction terms (e.g., ‘Gender’ by personality trait). Still, very few significant effects, even with a very large n (’n’ is the number of subjects in the study; the larger your n, the easier it is to find statistical significance). Plainly, the only significant predictor off having a status car, based on the Table provided (S1-S3), were being an agreeable woman or being an extroverted woman. 4) The models tested have as many as 19 variables entered, making the odds of finding at least one significant effect at p < .05 very high (AKA a false positive). Which one is the false positive? No way to tell.

Sadly, we no longer require our journalism majors to take a statistics course. Or a course on economics, political science, or science like we used to. The effects on national discourse are already evident. In a world where people have unlimited access to stories that simply verify their own opinions, objective and knowledgeable journalism is our best tool. And we are failing.

John Sherry

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