A recent study shows higher numbers of cat owners, as opposed to dog owners have university degrees (or higher IQ’s dependent upon where you hear the story). I asked my 14yr old daughter why she thought this was, and she absent-mindedly answered as she brushed her teeth ‘because dog owners don’t have as much time.’
‘As much time as who and for what?’ was my next question.
‘As much time as people with cats to go to University?’ was her hypothesis.
Statistics in isolation can be entertaining, but what IS the meaning behind the stats? I posed a new one to the girl:
‘If someone said that statistics showed that more poor families ate McDonalds, what would that mean?’
Her reply, charitably, was that ‘poor people’ have less time because they are out looking for ways to get money. I suggested that, as well as proving a point that you are trying to make, statistics can provide an opportunity to form a hypothesis which can then be tested further, and asked her to think about instances of poorer families that she knew to test her theory. She chose to restate her assumptions.
Statistics can be used to say whatever you want on any given occasion. Just change who you ask, when, and how. The West Wing showed an interesting reflection about polling: that people polled will make themselves seem more erudite than they are – people don’t like to admit that they are in front of the TV watching pap on a Saturday night, or not reading books.
Unfortunately though the most startling aspect of the recent report on the cat vs dogs IQ issue, which made me laugh out loud when I read it, was this:
Dr Jane Murray, a lecturer in feline epidemiology at Bristol University, said “We don’t know why there is this discrepancy. We did look at average household income but that wasn’t significant. Our best guess is that it’s to do with working hours and perhaps commuting to work, meaning people have a less suitable lifestyle for a dog. It’s really just a hunch though.”
Dr Murray’s post is funded by the Cats Protection charity, and hopes to repeat the study using the results of the 2011 census to get a clearer idea; I’m guessing that is because this first study couldn’t draw any more concrete a conclusion than the hunch – the outcome of those resources openly diverted from front line service delivery.
If I was The Cats’ Protection league (as was) I’d be asking for my money back*.
*Artistic license applied, I’m sure that this very serious scientific study is worth its weight in PR gold