Tuesday, February 16, 2021

How not to make a Twitter poll.

A Question of Saffron

Something or other reminded me recently that I can't seem to detect the smell or taste of saffron. A lot of people love it, and write passionately about it. They've smelled it being brought to them even before the waiter came through the kitchen door. They say they've had it explode in their mouth. And I have missed out... 

I wondered whether it was just me, or a fairly common thing, to be unable to smell and taste saffron, so I made a Twitter poll.

It was worded very poorly. To be fair to myself, at the time, I didn't think about it at all carefully. The result was that it didn't work the way I had expected.

A lot of people thought this was a question about whether saffron is wonderful, whether it is over-priced, or any of several possible interpretations. What I should have actually asked was "Can you smell and taste saffron". Like this...

Of course, this isn't good enough, either, as it discriminates against people who want to say that they can't afford saffron, or have never heard of it. But the worst thing is, all we can tell from the result of the original poll is that about half the people who saw the poll, and answered it,

  • like the smell of saffron

and about half of them 

  • think it is too expensive.
which actually tells us nothing at all about how many people can detect the taste and smell of saffron, and how many cannot.


Polls. We see lots of them quoted, and they are mostly about politics, and are supposed to let us know how people think about things that matter rather a lot more than whether one can detect saffron.

And a lot of those polls are even less well designed than mine. Some are even designed to make people draw the wrong conclusion, and it's not easy to tell which ones those are, is it?

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