When studies go wrong.

Last night on ABC World News with Diane Sawyer there was a cute little stereotypical report on men not asking for directions when lost. There was even a “scientific study” to back it up, said Diane! The results? 26% of men will drive for an additional 30 minutes before asking for directions, while 74% of women have no problems asking for directions. Wow. What a shocking difference. Also, the average male drives an additional 276 miles a year because they won’t ask for directions!

Of course, if you have any knowledge of statistics, you know that comparing the percentages of two completely different questions is meaningless. ABC has so thoughtfully compared the number of men that wait 30 minutes before asking for directions to the number of women who don’t have a problem asking for directions. Of course, we don’t know what the percentage is of men who have no problem asking for directions because, well, the company behind the “scientific study,” an insurance agency that offers car insurance to women only, didn’t release those numbers. You’ve found such a great, unbiased, “scientific” source, ABC.

But let’s take a closer look at two statistics they do provide.

  • The average man drives 276 extra miles annually when lost, while the average woman drives 256 miles
  • 37% of women pull over immediately to ask for directions when lost, for men it’s 30%

Wow! A difference of 20 miles! If you went off the ABC report alone you might think that men annually drive 276 more miles than women. Way to be misleading! And a whole 7% more women (polled) pull over immediately than men. I guess the writers at ABC didn’t think a 7% difference was big enough to effectively further a ridiculous social stereotype. Or rather, the insurance company didn’t think the difference big enough; ABC just didn’t take the time to think.

But, let’s take a look at those first percentages again. 26% of men drive for 30 minutes before asking for directions, while 74% of women have no problem asking for directions. Let’s try reversing it, just for fun. If 26% of men wait at least 30 minutes, how many ask for directions before then? 74%. Weird. And how many women have a “problem” (whatever that means) asking for directions? 26%! Wow… what a sham.

If ABC can’t do their own research for such a simple topic, and if they aren’t willing to think critically about the “news” they pull off the Internet, check sources, and consider bias before broadcasting it nationally, why should we trust them to report anything accurately.

Two last notes. Not surprisingly, the women-only insurance company opted to not ask in their survey how often people got lost. Afterall, we wouldn’t want to reinforce a negative social stereotype about women getting lost, now would we? Also, it’s a British company, surveying British drivers in Britain, which makes this study so incredibly irrelevant to American drivers.

Thanks ABC.