Seattle Times’ “Research”

seattle-times-logo-2During my several years of graduate school, I was “fortunate” enough to take a bunch of classes that all focused on statistical analysis and research design. This of course was the prep work required to complete a thesis, and go onto a PhD and become a diligent researcher in the social sciences – namely media studies.

Once I left my corporate employment and tuition was no longer paid for and I started running my own business, my masters got left in the dust. But some of it stuck, including the memory of how painful I found these courses.

They all focused on the interpretation of data, the ways of thinking about how it is we think we know what we think we know, and how to design research projects in the hopes of creating hypothesis and testing that will yield valid and reliable results.

Now, let me get off the “expert” train right here and acknowledge I am NOT an expert in any of these topics by any stretch of the imagination.

I will however say that I learned enough to become a little dangerous, and to smell bad research from time to time.

The Seattle Times cover story for the McKenna ad does not pass the smell test.

I can not imagine what kind of valid results the Times will be able to extract from its “experiment” that involves giving the Republican candidate for Governor $80,000 worth of free advertising.

There are so many missing pieces it would take me hours to describe them all.

What I can promise you however is that there are no meaningful data that can be generated by just running some ads in a newspaper. No provision has been made to create a falsifiable hypothesis, describe the subjects or groups being treated, the variables being controlled for, the tools used in measurement, or the statistical models proposed to analyze the results.

While there are certainly many journalistic, ethical, political and social questions that can be raised by the Times’ actions, I will leave them to the pack.

My message today is that the Times is taking advantage of the public’s lack of awareness or knowledge about what “research” means to tell the big lie – that their gift of advertising to the McKenna campaign has a non-political purpose and says nothing about the paper’s political agenda.

I don’t care whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican. Don’t create a smokescreen. Just own it, even if you own a newspaper.