One of the main reasons we want statistics is to save us time; after all if we know whats effective, useful and likewise what isn’t then we can better use our time for that given task in the future. Or so we think. See lately I have realised that in the majority of cases the actual gathering of statistics related to tasks takes longer than the tasks themselves, and that doesn’t include analysing the things afterwards. Then there is the cost involved; not only are you being less productive and so not making as much money, but you are also paying out additional sums for the purposes of statistical analysis and the gathering of information. This basically spells bad news for the world in general.
Almost routinely I am stopped in the street to be asked to answer a survey taking 20 minutes or so of my time, many of them these days offer to pay you! Now while this might sound like a good deal for the average person in the street, its a big waste of our time and I almost always give them the brush off. But lets think for a minute what its costing the people who are gathering the stats. First, theres paying the people to ask questions, and paying the people who answer them if applicable. Then there is the production of the questionaires, both the printing and the research used to make sure they are the most effective they could be (they usually pay a group of people to do this). Gathering the information comes next; collating, indexing and analysing it. This takes time and money of course. Afterwards you then have to review the compiled stats wasting more time and then publish them because after all, you’ve spent so much on them you may as well let the world know. You then find that half the people who find the stats coming their way ignore them, the other half dispute them saying that they are flawed.
So what does this mean? In essence, stats are pointless and a huge waste of our time, money and quite frankly our lives. I’m not prepared to spend my life filling out forms rather than working on something productive, especially if the results of such efforts are ignored for the most part. Call me a cynic if you like, but if you were self-employed I think you would soon find that you’d rather be doing things that earnt you money than things that wasted your time, made you just as tired and didn’t earn you a penny.
Having said all of that, the next question is where do we point the finger of blame; who spends the most time on stats, who spends the most money, what do we have to do to change the statistics culture? It may surprise you to learn that the areas of society that gather, collate, analyse and ignore the most stats are none other than our own government. If this doesn’t bother you it should; what it means in real terms is that your tax is being spent on things that don’t benefit society at all, and that the time of people who work in the public sector, who’s jobs exist to make the life of the general public better, is being used for the generation of statistics rather than the job they were hired to undertake. Has anyone ever thought that rising crime figures are actually the fault of the fact we have crime figures at all? If police spent the 40% of the time they spend behind a desk filling in forms and generating statistics out on the street fighting crime, perhaps the figures would be so low we wouldn’t have to record them. It’s certainly food for thought.
So next time you get stopped in the street and offered a fiver for 20 minutes of your time, just think where the information is going to end up. More likely than not you would be better off just ripping the top sheet off the clipboard and placing it in the nearest bin, after all when its gone through the whole system it doesn’t really end up anywhere different.