Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Don’t open your mouth until you’ve done your research

That means chasing startling statistics all the way back to their source BEFORE you use them in a speech, or blog post, or on a LinkedIn group. If you don’t, then you can look pretty silly. Don’t rely on third-hand information like a newspaper article written based on a press release about a survey or magazine article. The press release even may be wrong. For an example, see my blog post on What do the most Americans fear? The Chapman Survey on American Fears and the press release copying reflex.

You need to ask research questions like:

A]  Who said that?

B]  What did they say?

C]  When did they say it?

D]  Where did it appear?

E]  How do you know that is right?


Recently on the Metallurgy & Materials Science group at LinkedIn there was a post by a recruiter that said:

“question for you all - we need 587,000 engineers by 2017, basically our country is a mess it seems! What should/can we do to change this?”

Presumably the country was his (UK), and perhaps he meant that huge number had to be found just in the next two years. Really? Also, did he mean just engineers, engineers and technicians, or all workers?

When repeatedly quizzed by another recruiter in the U.S. about where that number he’d used came from, he said it was “from Engineering” and that you could find the article just by looking at Google. I searched, found there was an organization called Engineering UK, and eventually found their press release titled Over Half a Million New Engineering and Manufacturing Workers Needed by 2017. It instead said:

“In order for the UK economy to recover, the manufacturing sector will need to recruit over half a million (587,000) engineering and manufacturing workers with state-of the-art-skills by 2017, according to a report launched today by EngineeringUK, the independent organisation that promotes the vital contribution of engineers, engineering and technology in our society.”

When I looked further I found a June 2014 LinkedIn Pulse article by that same recruiter titled The War on the engineering shortage in which he said:

 “the engineering industry must recruit 587,000 new, skilled workers before 2017.”

That was workers, not engineers. After I pointed it out in a comment, he took down the post at the Metallurgy & Materials Science group.

Further search lead me to a .pdf file with the report’s Executive Summary and Conclusions for the Engineering UK 2009/10 Report, which concluded:

“The UK will need to recruit 587,000 new workers into manufacturing over the period 2007-2017.”

The time period turned out to be ten years rather than the two I might have guessed. I still have not found a .pdf file with the full report from Engineering UK


In December 2014 I blogged about how Statistic Brain is just a statistical medicine show. Sometimes their information is hilariously out of date. For example, their Rabies Virus Statistics page now lists a Research Date of March 12, 2015, but as is shown above their table shows CDC data from way back in 2001 rather than their most current data published in November 2014. Statistic Brain still has the same old data they first posted with a Research Date of July 23, 2012. 


Not everything is meant to be taken seriously. There is news satire from sources like The Onion. On August 17th I blogged about one of their articles in a post titled Did a survey find that Americans’ greatest fear is a waitress forgetting about them - pedisecaphobia? No! Just for that post I made up pedisecaphobia, and back in 2013 also hoplocynohydrophobia. In June an ABC News article discussed All the Times People Were Fooled by The Onion.

The statue image came from Wikimedia Commons, and the dunce image from a Puck cartoon at the Library of Congress.

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