The Data Indicated…

data outlining head - © agsandrew - Fotolia.com

After attending the WAPOR Annual Conference, the ESOMAR Annual Congress, and the MRA Corporate Researchers Conference last month, I was flipping through the notebook of rants and raves that I create as I listen to speakers. Interestingly, even at these conferences, where the best of the best speak, I heard a certain phrase repeatedly.

“The regression model indicated…”
“The data indicated…”
“The results indicated…”

Well you know what? The data indicated absolutely nothing. Zip. Zilch. Zero.

Data is data. Numbers in a table. Points in a chart. Pretty diagrams and statistical output.

The only thing that indicated anything is you. You looked at the data and the statistical output and interpreted it based on your limited or extensive skills, knowledge, and experience. If I were to review your data, my skills, knowledge, and experience might say that it indicates something completely different.

Data are objective and indicate nothing. Take responsibility for your own interpretations.

Annie Pettit is the Chief Research Officer of Peanut Labs, editor-in-chief of Vue Magazine, and author of The Listen Lady.

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Comments

  1. RayPoynter says:

    Like all things, I think it depends on what people mean. In many scientific contexts, and some which are trying to be scientific, the the data indicate is taken to mean that within the parameters agreed for the context, the data are consistent this conclusion, or even that only this conclusion is consistent with the data. For example, we might set up a testing system for dice that says if we roll a specific die 20 times and we do not see all six numbers appearing we will classify it as suspect. Having agreed the test, if we then test a die and it does not produce all six value then ‘the data indicate it is suspect’.

    So, if people are using ‘the data indicate’ or ‘the data suggest’ to say that they a) created a hypothesis, b) agreed that hypothesis with a relevant group, c) tested the hypothesis, and d) found a specific result, that is fair.

    The benefit of this construction over ‘I suggest’ or ‘I think’ is that the point is not what I think, but given the agreed parameters the results either support or challenge the proposition.

    This form of discussion underpinned the court cases about the harm caused by tobacco. The data were not effective in court cases until the parameters were agreed, once the parameters of the analysis were agreed then the court cases became straight forward (and for the people who had been claiming it was opinion, the tobacco companies) expensive.

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