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UFO sighting causation correlation market researchSmallI read a blurb in The Economist about UFO sightings. They charted some 90,000 reports and found that UFO's are, as they put it, "considerate". They tend not to interrupt the work day or sleep. Rather, they tend to be seen far more often in the evening (peaking around 10PM) and more on Friday nights than other nights.
The Economist dubbed the hours of maximum UFO activity to be "drinking hours" and implied that in fact that drinking was the cause of all those sightings.
As researchers, we know that correlation does not mean causation. Of course their analysis is interesting and possibly correct, but it is superficial. One could argue (and I'm sure certain "experts" on the History Channel would) that it is in fact the UFO activity that causes people to want to drink, but by limiting their analysis to two factors (time of day/number of sightings), The Economist ignore other explanations.
For example, the low number of sightings during sleeping hours would make perfect sense (most of us sleep indoors with our eyes closed). The same might be true for the lower number during work hours (many people don't have ready access to a window and those who do are often focused on their computer screen and not the little green men taking soil samples out the window).
As researchers, we need to consider all the possibilities. Questionnaires should be constructed to include questions that help us understand all the factors that drive decision making. Analysis should, where possible, use multivariate techniques so that we can truly measure the impact of one factor over another. Of course, constructing questions that allow respondents to express their thinking is also key...while a long attribute rating battery might seem like it is being "comprehensive" it is more likely mind numbing for the respondent. We of course prefer to use techniques like Max-Diff, Bracket™ or Discrete Choice to figure out what drives behavior.
Hopefully I've given you something to think about tonight when you are sitting on the porch, having a drink and watching the skies.

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The 2012 Presidential Election season is upon us. I don't know about you, but other than the barrage of commercials, the thing I like least about political campaigns is the terrible abuse of numbers. Combined with the current debate on the debt limit and we have the makings of a tsunami of misleading or outright incorrect statistics.

A  few weeks ago, Megan Holstine started a discussion about a Senator using a totally made up statistic. Sadly for him, he quoted a number that was far from accurate, but also one that was easily verified. His defense was that he didn't intend the statistic to be taken "literally".

Makes me wonder if perhaps we've got it wrong.  Think of the possibilities for us if we stopped taking numbers literally!

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