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My daughter was performing in The Music Man this summer and after seeing the show a number of times, I realized it speaks to the perils of poor planning…in forming a boys band and in conducting complex research.  

For those of you who have not seen it, the show is about a con artist who gets a town to buy instruments and uniforms for a boys band in exchange for which he promises he’ll teach them all how to play. When they discover he is a fraud they threaten to tar and feather him, but (spoiler alert) his girl friend gets the boys together to march into town and play. Despite the fact that they are awful, the parents can’t help but be proud and everyone lives happily ever after.

It is to some extent another example of how good we are at rationalizing. The parents wanted the band to be good and so they convinced themselves that they were. The same thing can happen with research…everyone wants to believe the results so they do…even when perhaps they should not.

I’ve spent my career talking about how important it is to know where your data have been. Bias introduced by poor interviewers, poorly written scripts, unrepresentative sample and so on will impact results AND yet these flawed data will still produce cross tabs and analytics. Rarely will they be so far off that the results can be dismissed out of hand.

The problem only gets worse when using advanced methods. A poorly designed conjoint will still produce results. Again, more often than not these results will be such that the great rationalization ability of humans will make them seem reasonable.

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Is Cybercrime a Huge Problem?

Posted by on in A Day in a (MR) Life

cybercrimeCybercrime is a fear for just about everyone, from individuals fearing identity theft to large corporation guarding sensitive data. The question is, how valid is this fear?   It is a question that was raised recently in an Economist article and it makes it clear that politicians are not the only ones who misuse and abuse numbers.

Claims have been made that cybercrime is bigger than the drug trade and that it costs a trillion dollars annually. Most of these figures come from firms who specialize in preventing cybercrime...in other words the same folks who will benefit if people feel the need to protect themselves from cybercrime. These figures are generally not questioned, either out of numerical ignorance or the belief (probably correct) that big numbers scare people and help to sell newspapers (or in today's world web hits).  

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