The mood makers: How quickly we get the results of studies or surveys on the glue.

Renowned survey institute Statista, among other things, with surveys on mobility

From Harald Kaiser

Cars? Yuck, for God's sake! This is Uropa's means of transport. Today cargo bikes are popular. In the opinion of the Greens, there should also be a purchase bonus for them if possible - if the gentlemen should be involved in the next federal government. But they have already managed to get the cargo bike number spread in the media. And so they definitely got the attention they had hoped for.

That's what it's all about. How serious the Greens are about it plays a subordinate role. The same applies to study and survey results. Mainly headlines. On the face of it, it seems to be a deal with the truth. One could believe. We are talking about reports in the daily news bullion that reflect actual or alleged moods, views or trends. As a reader, you usually don't know exactly. Often there are messages hidden in them that are intended to create a specific mood and set a direction. Also very important: those that are suitable for the regulars' table.

Like this message: The car is losing its attraction for young adults. This applies to both car ownership and car use in the 18 to 30-year-old population. The detailed analysis shows that young drivers in Germany in particular have changed their traffic behavior and are using local public transport more and more often. This message is based on a study by the Institute for Mobility Research in Munich - it is a subsidiary of the BMW Group.

The author Harald Kaiser

The message comes from 2011. The opposite cut from January 2021: The Mobility Consumer Index 2020 of the consulting firm Ernst Young (EY) comes to the conclusion in a survey of more than 3300 consumers (in nine countries, including Germany) that their own Auto is the new trend. Almost a third of those who do not own a car intend to buy an (electric) car soon. According to the survey, owning a car is the new trend. 45 percent of all first-time car buyers will belong to the younger generation, the 24 to 39 year olds. Not least because of concern about being able to catch Covid in other means of transport.

It can now be said that within the span of ten years, from 2011 to 2021, conditions and views can always change significantly. Might be. But when evaluating these completely contradicting statements, it must be taken into account that in the past decade in particular there have been - and still are - a large number of anti-car campaigns. In other words, that the political and ideological demonization of the car in the population is not really taking hold.

Many are likely to be correspondingly critical of the car's emissions and congestion problems, because today it is good form to have an opinion on it. The latest figures from the Federal Motor Transport Authority prove that this is apparently only opportunistic make-up. According to this, the number of cars in Germany increased from 42,3 million in 2011 to 48,2 million in 2020. That is an increase of 14 percent. The statisticians explain this by the fact that the trend in private households over the last ten years has been towards second and third cars. Will the anti-auto-ideologues wake up now and finally understand that the majority of the people do not want to follow them? Nope, go ahead and don't even ignore these facts.

Another result from the cornucopia of studies and surveys: The trend towards electromobility is initiating a change for the entire automotive industry, according to a report in the late summer of 2021. This is as “new” as the fact that it gets light every morning. Sure, everything is always in flux. A significant change in the mobility business has been on the horizon for years. Strictly speaking, since 1886, when with the first car in the world, the Benz motor car, the complete turnaround of the transport sector began and the horse-drawn carriage operators gradually either had to adapt or went bankrupt. Because the newfangled finding is based on a study by the consulting firm Deloitte, it nevertheless found its way into the public.

Why the spread of such nonsense studies has become normal in times of the daily avalanche of news can easily be explained: Study or survey results have a scientific and thus somehow illuminating and competent charm that is immediately placed on the media conveyor belt. Even if, viewed in light, there is often neither added value nor clean science is the basis. And it is overlooked or even completely unknown that this channel not only brings manipulated messages under the guise of supposed truth to the people, it can also be used to make excellent money. Even with government subsidies. Like mushrooms after a heavy rain, survey, research or consulting institutes have sprung up in recent years, throwing research results of whatever kind from various specialist areas onto the news market en masse.

The labels “study” or “survey” are particularly important. Because this is supposed to give the impression of an allegedly undoubted scientific quality of the result. On closer inspection, however, one can get doubts here and there. A study that is privately funded usually has one clear goal: attention. It doesn't have to be dubious. Also, from a methodological point of view, sponsored studies are not necessarily made worse than non-sponsored studies, as analyzes show, especially since pharmaceutical companies, for example, employ entire departments that are only concerned with the methodology. Nevertheless, sponsored studies tend to produce positive results more often*. In 2015, for example, around 68 percent of research and its results were financed by industrial companies in the OECD countries. 18 percent came from universities and 11 percent was paid by the state. Only two and a half percent came from charitable organizations.

There are enough reasons why such work is sometimes not to be trusted or with what intent it is carried out and published:

  • Because in many cases there are government grants for financing that you want to tap - regardless of the result. Probability: high.
  • Because actually or only apparently representative results of surveys are intended to highlight or reinforce trends / majorities. Probability: high.
  • Because institutions have committed to producing and publishing a certain number of studies per year. It is not uncommon for one or the other to be missing towards the end of the year, which is why a study or survey topic is quickly devised in order to receive the state funding linked to the number of publications. If this does not happen, there is a risk that this subsidy could be reduced or canceled. Probability: high.
  • Because the respective client wants the results in the media for reasons of self-presentation, in order to document activity, to get attention and, moreover, to create a mood in some direction. Probability: high.
  • Because the results of surveys or studies are intended to achieve political or economic influence, particularly during election campaign times. Probability: very high.
  • Because the objective truth is to be found out with the help of an unbiased in-depth analysis of a situation. Probability: occurs.
  • Or a mixture for the reasons mentioned. Probability: unclear.

The methodology of the question does not play a small role either. There are a number of tricks that clients - both public and private - use to influence a study result. This does not happen in all studies by far - but it is possible. In 2019, the Swiss agency "Scitec Media" in Winterthur compiled how surveys / studies are sometimes carried out:

  • Questions are asked, the answer of which can only be yes. For example: Do I lose weight when I eat less? Naturally! Inferior comparable products are selected and displayed in order to make it more likely that their own products will perform better.
  • Non-representative samples with carefully selected participants are used. For example: Only people who lose weight quickly are examined for a diet.
  • If it achieves the desired result, the study is often published several times: First with individual results on a few questions and then as an overview of the entire topic.
  • A client only initiates such overview studies as long as there are no contradicting studies. A beverage manufacturer would, for example, have an overview prepared if the majority of the studies published to date come to the conclusion that their sweet drink does not make you fat. Otherwise of course not.
  • Studies also use language to obscure. For example, they often give the short version a positive spin, even though it has a negative result.
  • Clients like to have a survey carried out instead of a study - because it does not have to meet any scientific standards. Nevertheless, they are mostly declared with the label “representative”. This is a tool used by the public relations industry. Such surveys are conducted either in person, over the phone, or online.
  • If the study results are not as desired, the study disappears in the drawer.

Whether intentionally or unintentionally, Father State supports at least part of this study and survey mischief as well as the political / ideological instrumentalization of the results that is often associated with it. In 2020, the federal government paid out a total of 19,5 billion euros across all scientific disciplines for research support. This can be found in the funding catalog* of the Federal Government from September 2021. Of the billions, 812 million euros went to the hot topics of climate, environment and sustainability. The lion's share of this went to (quote) “university-free research” - 639 million euros. A further 115 million euros were distributed to universities, 46 million euros to the research-based industry and 11 million euros to other research institutions. It would be interesting not only to find out which institutions are meant by “university-free research”, but also how much tax money was used as a kind of publication bonus.

Since the results of such studies or surveys are usually free of charge for the media, they are disseminated quickly and, above all, often unchecked. In the news business, follow-up is often neglected because it costs time and money. Should it also turn out that the client / financier is pursuing hidden political intentions with the results, one would either have to name them or throw the message in the trash. But this is usually not wanted because it could lead to a peppy message and thus to a loss of attention.

The tricks used to operate can be demonstrated by dealing with numbers: If the situation has changed significantly on a question, then (treacherous) concrete numbers are often not mentioned and percentages are given instead. For example when discussing a motorway speed limit. For example, if the number of accidents has doubled on a section of the motorway network, it is often said that the accident rate there has increased by 100 percent. 100 percent more! That makes an impression, causes horror and quickly leads to the opinion of the regulars that, because of the frenzy, a speed limit must now be imposed. The fact that the doubling can be either from 1 to 2 or from 1000 to 2000 is concealed. Because an increase of 100 percent sounds more dramatic and is therefore news.

What remains is this: Because the majority of citizens neither can nor want to check the truth of such content or because critical reflection is exhausting and drinkable headlines are instead easy to consume, these messages get stuck in their heads. The more often they are hammered in, the truer the messages become. After all, the sender guarantees with a sonorous name and seriousness. This is how trends emerge, which in fact are sometimes not, the pretended correctness of which becomes more and more solid, the more they are reported and talked about.

 

*https://foerderportal.bund.de/foekat/jsp/StatistikAction.do?actionMode=list&ressort=BMBF

1 comment to "The mood makers: How quickly we get the results of studies or surveys on the glue."

  1. Rolf Franz Nieborg | 19. September 2021 09 to: 14 | Reply

    Will the draft horses of the Kölsch breweries also be exchanged for cargo bikes and how many Pittermännchen will fit in / on a cargo bike ???

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