- A recent post on my Facebook timeline boasted that Lansdale Farmers Market was voted the Best of Montgomery County, PA two years in a row. That’s the market I patronize, and I’d like to feel a bit of pride for it. But I’m a researcher and I know better.
Lansdale Farmers Market is a nice little market in the Philadelphia outskirts, but is it truly the best in the entire county? Possibly, but you can’t tell from this poll. Lansdale Farmers Market solicited my participation by directing me to a site that would register my vote for them (Heaven only knows how much personal information “The Happening List” gains access to). I’m sure that the other farmers markets solicited their voters in the same or similar ways. This amounts to little more than a popularity contest. Therefore, the only “best” that my market can claim is that it is the best in the county at getting its patrons to vote for it.
But if you have more patrons voting for you, shouldn’t that mean that you truly are the best? Not necessarily. It’s possible that the “best” market serves a smaller geographic area, doesn’t maintain a customer list, or isn’t as good at using social media, to name a few.
- A legitimate research poll would seek to overcome these biases. So what are the markers of a legitimate research poll? Here are a few:
- You’re solicited by a neutral third party. Sometimes the survey sponsors identify themselves up front and that’s okay. But usually if a competitive assessment is being conducted, the sponsor remains anonymous so as not to bias the results.
- You’re given competitive choices, not just a plea to “vote for me”.
- You may not be able to tell this, but there should be some attempt to uphold scientific sampling rigor. For example, if the only people included in the farmers market survey were residents of Lansdale, you could see how the sampling method would introduce an insurmountable bias.
The market opens for the summer season in a few weeks, and you can bet that I’ll be there. But I won’t stop to admire the inevitable banner touting their victory.