All this publicity for a study of 13 people!

February 22nd, 2012 at 4:25 pm by David Farrar

I blogged yesterday about a study that concluded fewer people would take up socially if smoke-free rules extended to areas outside bars.  It was based on a massive 13 interviews.

I wondered how many outlets reported this study, and how many used their judgement that there is nothing newsworthy in a study of 13 people that purports to reach conclusions that are applicable over the entire population.

Well the answer is depressing. This is a list of media outlets that gave near uncritical coverage to this study of 13 people.

  1. Radio 531pi (news)
  2. Radio Live Drive (Brent Impey)
  3. Radio Rhema (Andrew Urquhart)
  4. Newstalk ZB (Larry Williams) (which to be fair had a go at the small size)
  5. Radio Dunedin
  6. Radio Rhema (news)
  7. Radio Live (news)
  8. Stuff website
  9. Herald website
  10. Adelaide Advertiser
  11. Launceston Examiner
  12. ODT
  13. NZ Herald
  14. ODT (again)
  15. TVNZ7 6 pm News
  16. TVNZ7 News at 8

Not bad for a study of 13 people – more media mentions than actual participants.

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22 Responses to “All this publicity for a study of 13 people!”

  1. Manolo (13,837 comments) says:

    It goes to show the tobacco-nazis have support within the left-leaning and progressive illiberal media.
    The very same people who will overlook any detail that goes again their controlist, totalitarian agenda, e.g. sample size.

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  2. Brian Smaller (4,023 comments) says:

    I hate smoking but leave the people who do alone. Smoking does not affect me one jot now. I smell cigarettes about once in a blue moon. Smelly, sweaty communters are more odouress nowadays.

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  3. kowtow (8,524 comments) says:

    United Front tactics, same with all these so called progressive issues.

    global warming
    homosexual marriage
    immigration
    anti smoking
    anti drinking
    multiculturalism
    indigenous issues…………same old.

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  4. Nick R (507 comments) says:

    Radio NZ’s Checkpoint covered it too. But they asked the report’s author about the small sample and whether it meant the results were accurate or representative.

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  5. sean667 (4 comments) says:

    17. The Metro, England.

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  6. hj (7,033 comments) says:

    How about the Lancet, they covered Peter Dunne $upport for the tobacco industry :

    “Screening for Ministerial appointments? Systems failure in Peter Dunne’s appointment as a New Zealand Revenue and Associate Health Minister
    MP Peter Dunne has recently been appointed as a Minister outside cabinet for two positions, Associate Minister of Health and Minister of Revenue. These appointments may be relevant to a wide range of health issues in New Zealand, the Pacific region, and elsewhere. This letter focuses on his record on tobacco issues, and considers some of the implications of his appointments.
    For nearly 20 years, Mr Dunne has taken a public position opposed to tobacco control. In 1987, while an Undersecretary of Health in the Labour Government, he was reported as describing those who wanted a ban on tobacco advertising as ‘elitist zealots’.1 Since he left the Labour Party in 1994, he has consistently voted against tobacco control initiatives.
    Mr Dunne has described the efforts in New Zealand to prevent the sale of tobacco to underage children as ‘fascist’,2 and tobacco control spending as a ‘scandalous waste of money in pursuit of some health zealots’ beady eyed political correctness.’3 Mr Dunne also described the 2003 New Zealand legislation for smokefree bars as ‘extremism’.4
    Speaking in Parliament to oppose the legislation,5 the evidence indicates that he used (without attribution) statements previously published on a website by Barry McKay of the Canadian tobacco industry front group PUBCO: The Pub and Bar Coalition of Canada.6 He incorrectly attributed these statements (about ventilation being a solution to secondhand smoke dangers) to a British Medical Journal article.
    A December 1994 note from Paul Adams of British American Tobacco, to Peter Dunne, stated that it accompanied 100 pounds:

    ‘to help pay for your ‘Awayday’. I do hope you will enjoy yourselves.

    I would be grateful if you could get receipts for your expenses and pass them to the driver, even large companies have to account for their money!

    Enjoy your visit to England.’7
    In 2003, the month before this tobacco industry document was revealed, he was reported as saying:

    ‘I am constantly labelled by the health sector as a tool of the tobacco industry or a stooge … I cannot remember when I last met with someone from the industry.’ 8
    In 2000, when the possibility of tobacco companies being sued by government was raised, Mr Dunne stated that Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark had a ‘fanatical anti-smoking obsession’ and described ASH NZ as an extremist pressure group.9 In 2001, Prime Minister Helen Clark said that ‘he had consistently picked up issues in support of the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries.’10

    That a politician with this track record can be appointed to a Ministerial role in the health portfolio is a side effect of the MMP political system New Zealand now has (given he is a leader of a minor party in a type of government coalition). Nevertheless, it also indicates a design fault in the way the New Zealand political process selects new ministers.
    That is, there is no systematic publicly transparent review process for ministerial appointments, or a public appraisal of a ministerial candidate’s past support for commercial vested interests in the portfolio area they are considered for. Until such a transparent and effective system is established, it may be appropriate for the public (and the rest of Parliament) to at least tightly monitor the performance of such Ministers. In particular, non-governmental organisations need to take a monitoring and advocacy role to minimise any damage by such Ministers to important regulatory and legislative controls that protect public health and society.
    Or perhaps Mr Dunne should come with a warning label?
    George Thomson
    Department of Public Health, Wellington School of Medicine and Health Sciences
    University of Otago, Wellington
    Nick Wilson
    Department of Public Health, Wellington School of Medicine and Health Sciences
    University of Otago, Wellington
    Competing interests: Both authors have worked for health sector agencies concerned with tobacco control.
    References:

    ASH NZ. Tax take influences Undersecretary for Health. ASH Newsletter. December 1987. (28): p.1. [Reporting a statement on Radio New Zealand December 1, 1989]
    Dunne P: Speech on the Smoke-free Environments Amendment Bill (No. 2) 10 July 1997. In. Parliamentary Debates: In Committee. Wellington; 1997.
    New Zealand Press Association. Smoke-free Act ‘$44 million waste of money’. Dominion (newspaper). Wellington: 20 March 1998.
    Watkins T. Secret smoking agenda denied. Dominion Post (newspaper). Wellington: 5 July 2003.
    Dunne P: Speech on the Smoke-free Environments Amendment Bill: In Committee: November 12, 2003. In. New Zealand House of Representatives Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). Wellington; 2003. Available online. URL: http://www.clerk.parliament.govt.nz/hansard/Hansard.aspx Accessed November 2005.
    McKay B. New UK ventilation study proves succesful? PUBCO: Pub and Bar Coalition of Canada. Available online. URL:

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  7. elscorcho (154 comments) says:

    Far be it for me to rain some QUAL on your QUANT loving parade, but 13 in-depth interviews can throw a lot of light on complex situations in a way that large-n surveys simply cannot.

    Next time someone does a policy analysis book, they should just survey every employee at the organisation, instead of engaging in elite interviews, right?

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  8. Steve (4,565 comments) says:

    They never asked me, and I’m an ex-smoker.
    Quite disapointing realy, they never had balance

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  9. Keith Ng (22 comments) says:

    If all you have is a phone bank, everything looks like a QUANT problem.

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  10. Yvette (2,824 comments) says:

    19 TV ONE BREAKFAST who didn’t mention it was only 13 people interviewed, but a Hospitality representative did – rather spoiled the item for them

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  11. dave (988 comments) says:

    20. Kiwiblog gave this study coverage too. Twice.

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  12. johnbc (16 comments) says:

    Anti tobacco zealots never sleep. A bit like rust.

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  13. simonway (387 comments) says:

    ITT dpf doesn’t understand what “qualitative research” means.

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  14. Pongo (372 comments) says:

    And The Daily Mail FFS, guess that Otago Degree is now ranked somewhere alongside a downloadable one from the inter web now for credibility.

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  15. billr (21 comments) says:

    this is hilarious, you have to read between the lines. this was a qualitative study that’s all no more. what’s the problem in that? i am personally fed up of finding that the only decent seats outside bars are now full of smokers. i don’t want to be polluted with smoke any more. I grew up in a country where smoking was seen as a birth right. it’s not, it’s bloody awful

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  16. hj (7,033 comments) says:

    Time to attack Winston?

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  17. Than (475 comments) says:

    LOL. So “quality” counts as much as quantity now? Great, I’ve talked to a friend of mine heaps. He’s a good bloke, so his opinion (sample size 1) should be taken over any surveys or data.

    If quality is so important then the authors should name the 13 respondents and justify why their *opinions* are so significant. And that word really deserves emphasis because (even ignoring the sample size) all this study is claiming is “these people think X”. No numbers about expected reductions in smoking rates, just an incredibly vague “a few people believe something to be true”. To be blunt, this is simply well-documented gossip.

    How this managed to be considered news shows the sad state of modern journalism.

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  18. scrubone (3,099 comments) says:

    Saying it’s a qualitative study misses the point.

    Qualitative studies should suggest areas that more solid stats can be gathered via quantitative studies.

    The issue here is that the way the study is being presented – not as a first “ideas gathering” step, but rather as an authoritative statement on something – which is clearly is not.

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  19. DJP6-25 (1,388 comments) says:

    I wonder if generations yet unborn will enjoy their second job? You know. The one they will have to take to pay for all this nonsense.

    cheers

    David Prosser

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  20. peterwn (3,277 comments) says:

    Makes me wonder whether Curia Polls has an appropriate business model. It would be no big deal to phone up 13 people for each poll from an African wildlife park or Great Barrier Island. David could spend six months of the year at each.

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  21. marcw (250 comments) says:

    TV1 were still banging on about it on Breakfast this morning – slow learners?

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  22. Matthias (2 comments) says:

    Listened to this story on Checkpoint too. Uncritical media coverage is one thing, but what really irritated me about the interview was that the lead researcher (Janet Hoek) herself contributed to the problem. She started off with some very reasonable qualifiers about how this was purely exploratory and qualitative research and not aimed at making population estimates… and then went straight on to make statements like “most social smokers see themselves as non-smokers”.

    Wording statements like this (presence tense, no explicit restriction of the claim to a particular group) carries an implication that she’s making a claim not just about the 13 participants, but about social smokers *in general*. But that’s a claim that her research simply doesn’t provide evidence to justify. (The particular claim that social smokers see themselves as non-smokers isn’t particularly interesting, of course, it’s just one that I noticed at the beginning of the interview).

    I think researchers need to take some responsibility for not allowing their conclusions to be exaggerated when disseminated in the media, and particularly shouldn’t be contributing to over-interpretations of their results.

    Link the actual research: http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/early/2012/01/20/tobaccocontrol-2011-050176.full

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