All too often we look at data with our minds closed. We look for differences when there are none and see no similarities where similarities abound. Or, we look for the familiar and see it everywhere, ignoring what fails to conform to our view of the world. This means we just don't hear what we don't want to hear or see what we don't want to see. Even when it's staring us right in the face and poking us in the eye.
We use 'facts' and 'evidence' to support all manner of hare-brained assertions and continue to ignore what we don't want to acknowledge. As Forrest G might say, "just cause it's got data in it, don't mean it's clever...".
So on the wires today is a survey from the lovely boys and girls at Millward Brown contrasting what British and US consumers regard as important social issues. Interesting (as ever with such studies) not for major divergences but from similarities...
quite the opposite of what the editorial blurb suggests (GBS on "two nations divided by a common language" etc). Most of the subjects are shared by both sets of respondents, in broadly the same order (it's not as if the US's number 1 issue isn't shared at all by the UK respondents...). Apart from - most strikingly - climate change, which our transatlantic cousins don't seem to have noticed happening. (No s***, Sherlock...). But this barely merits a mention...
However, the press release (can't believe anyone did anything but copy this one out) then (unintentionally) shows something properly interesting that's not based on a difference but a similarity: how we two nations don't really trust anyone but friends and family...
"An overhwhelming majority of consumers (95% in the UK, 94% in the USA) say they trust the opinions of friends and family more than doctors, non-profit organisations, charities, academics, sportsmen/women, non-government organisations, government organisations, journalists, celebrities, bloggers and politicians"
NB Bloggers, it is claimed, are only marginally more trusted than politicians (that probably would be more interesting if a majority read blogs...).
This should be enough for a nice few thoughts on the importance of other people in shaping individual opinion (and possibly, we'd assume individual behaviour). It is quite striking to see how hard young Peter Walshe (global brand director at Millward Brown & lead researcher on the study) has to work to avoid accepting this most striking piece of the data (the 95/94% who trust friends and family more than other sources).
Instead he has a good old ruminate about consumer activism, checking out the relative (claimed) impact of the social issues on individual respondents' (claimed) behaviour.
Before he gets to his masterstroke (!!!):
"It seems consumers 'buycott' [support causes they like] rather than boycott to punish companies"
Not actually much evidence for this even in his own data but clearly the idea he went in with (which makes him blind to the 95% elephant in the living room.
But my guess is at least one person at MB is still too caught up with preconceived ideas to see what even their own data is showing...