I was listening to The Mark Steel Solution in the car today. If you don’t know this mid-1990s R4 programme, it’s where Mark comes up with radical solutions to life’s problems. In this particular episode, it was the answer to our attitudes to sexuality, being that “Everyone should have to be gay for two years” the idea being that were we all to experience what that meant then perhaps we would all be rather more tolerant than we often are.
The reason that I mention this is that it included the oft quoted statistic that one in twelve people are gay, but how do they (whoever they are) work this out? Presumably from surveys, but what sort of question is that to ask the man or woman in the street? Approaching anyone in our nearest town, armed with a clipboard, a biro, a smile and “Are you gay?” and you’ll be picking your teeth out of the gutter.
This isn’t an anti-gay thing, just anti-survey, especially when it comes to intrusively personal questions of the typical man or woman on the street. How far can you trust the result? Is one in twelve gay and happy to admit it, or are there more who haven’t come out, or are there less because they just said they were because they were having a laugh.
What prompted this train of thought was the media diary I get every week through work. Right at the end was a pronouncement expected on Friday on the: “Prevalence of Masturbation and Associated Factors in a British National Probability Survey” by Online First.
It continued: “A probability sample survey of the British general population, aged 16 to 44 years, conducted from 1999 to 2001 to estimate the population prevalence of masturbation, and to identify sociodemiographic, sexual behavioural, and attitudes with reporting this behaviour.”
Quite relaxed was the answer to the last question it seems. Seventy-three per cent of men and 36.8% of women reported masturbating in the four weeks prior to interview. I’m not sure how it could be so precise for men and a decimal point for women. A question of hitting the right spot, I guess.
Back to surveys. Just how sure can they be that they got the right answer? “95% confidence interval, 71.5%-74.4% and 35.4%-38.2%, respectively” it said.
But it’s the unasked questions that interest me:
- Why the survey and what does this add to the sum of human knowledge?
- How often was said behaviour occuring simulataneously?
- Are those who conduct such surveys a bunch of tossers?
The last is self-evident, of course.