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Are You Using Statistics Ethically?

How far are you willing to go to acquire readership for your blog? Some people wouldn’t hesitate to answer this question with a response along the lines of “as far as I have to.” However, you should take a step back and think twice about certain techniques that you may be utilizing to attract readers.

For example, are you scouring the Internet for a few minutes or for a few hours to find research that backs up your claims? Are you presenting unbiased facts or are you manipulating research solely to support your views?

Ethical dilemmas regarding research can come into play when you’re on a deadline, but it’s important to always maintain a firm stance on what you will and will not write. Below are some factors to consider.

Are your statistics used to shock readers?

Statistics can be used to draw attention to an important issue that might otherwise be overlooked, but this is different from manipulating research.

The best example is the use of crime statistics in the FBI’s crime clocks. The FBI broke down 2011 UCR data and gave examples of the frequency of certain crimes. They said that a murder occurs every 36 minutes, and a violent crime every 26.2 seconds. However, you can’t count down 36 minutes exactly and assume that somewhere someone has just been murdered.

CrimeClockWhile these clocks leave out information on relative risk of victimization and fail to account for factors such as fluctuations in population, they still provide a pretty vivid picture of crime in the US using actual data

Are you manipulating research just to support your POV?

This is a question that you should always ask yourself when utilizing any type of research to support a claim that you are making in your article. Have you dug deep enough to present unbiased facts or are you manipulating the findings of one or two research studies to support your claim?

Anyone who has ever had to submit any kind of research paper knows that there’s evidence out there that can be interpreted to support almost any notion; however, just because there is some obscure research paper supporting your claim does not always mean you should run with it.

This is especially true given the rapid advancements of today’s technology. Take a few minutes to do a Google search trying to find some facts to support the claim that the music industry is dying. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

music2Now do another Google search and try and find research supporting the claim that the music industry is thriving.

musicindustry1Did you happen to find a lot of seemingly credible information to support both points of view? Behold the magic of the Internet.

There are two sides to every story.

When you’re conducting research for an article it’s important to take a step back and think about the different ways that the original research can be interpreted and how your presentation of that data might be interpreted by your readers.

A recent study titled Smarter, richer people use Google discussed the use of various search engines. I’ll give you a minute to re-read and process that title in all of its glory. In brief, this article cites a study by Chitika which found that, on average, those who “…live in states with above-average median household incomes and college graduation rates…” are more apt to use Google than other search engines.

googlestudyCan this research be interpreted in a variety of ways? Sure. We could take this research and write an article on how job growth rates impact internet usage. Or we could just say that if you use Google you’re probably richer and smarter than the average under-educated, underemployed Bing user. How it’s presented is at the discretion of the author.

How far is too far?

I’m not saying that you can never stretch research to support your claims, but it’s important to know how far is too far. This goes back to personal ethics and what you feel comfortable with as a writer. Do you want to write an article on how 34% of people who watched Miley Cyrus perform at the VMA’s suffered from temporary blindness afterwards? Great. Where’s your evidence?

Personally, I am not okay with being knowingly deceptive in my writing, glazing over the facts and making sweeping assumptions, or using inflated statistics that might skew results in my favor. If I feel that a deadline has me under pressure and that I might not be doing my due diligence in terms of the amount of research that a certain assignment requires I find it’s always best to take a break (read: nap) then come back and reevaluate.

The most important thing to remember is that in your efforts to gain readership you should never sacrifice personal ethics. Always make sure that the research you use to back up your claims has not been skewed into something almost unrecognizable from its original form. Think twice about the different ways that original data can be interpreted and most importantly, how it might be interpreted by your readers.

About the author

Cristie Rivera