Will Guppies Save Clintons Marriage?
(Have we got your attention? - Thats the point)
by Howard Fienberg
Journalists are trained to be skeptical of self-interested conclusions. Research on
breast implants funded by Dow Corning is mistrusted, just as environmental studies by oil
companies may be given short shrift. In the eyes of many journalists, research produced by
interested parties taints conclusions.
But corporate self-interest isnt always so obvious, and journalists can still be
taken in when a savvy marketeer makes a lively claim. For example, a sex survey made big
news last month. "The French do it most often, the Americans for longest, while the
Thais prefer to wait for the honeymoon." This was the Financial Times (September 26)
reporting on the latest global survey of sexual behavior, a story that made headlines
worldwide, from the Toronto Star to the San Diego Union Tribune. Perhaps most astounding
was that Americans were pegged the most unfaithful, at 50%far ahead of the
stereotypically adulterous French at only 36%. Unfortunately, these results have more to
do with corporate marketing than serious research.
Data from third annual "Global Sex Survey," as it turns out, were gathered
and disseminated by the condom manufacturer Durex. Only 14 countries were surveyed for
this "global" survey. An impressive sample size of 10,000 was claimed, but this
represents only those with the time and inclination to fill out and return the
questionnaire. Moreover, it focused only on the "sexually active" respondents,
which to Durex means 16 to 45 year-olds. It shouldnt take a White House scandal to
remind journalists that sex doesnt stop at age 45.
This is not an isolated event. According to the BBC, $470 million in productivity was
lost over a two week period as American workers looked at the Starr report to Congress and
President Clintons testimony online. But the claim is simply an estimated figure
based on the assumption that each employee averaged an hour apiece online. All this in a
report provided by a San Diego company which produces software allowing firms to track
their staffs internet usage.
From the animal kingdom, the Wall Street Journal reported that "Guppies Can Save
Your Marriage." Pet fish lessen stress, improve family relations, and have a
generally relaxing effect. This according to a survey from the American Pet Products
Manufacturers Association, based on a fishy sample of only 100 people.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune at least put the story in its placeaccompanied by a
short look at examples of how opinion pollsters "are apparently running out of
important survey questions." Their evidence includes a survey from Blistex
"showing that the biggest turnoffs to romance are too much flab (31 percent),
excessive perfume (24 percent) and (surprise!) chapped lips."
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