Of course, the hovercraft is an impractical hypothetical option, but if you were asked in a hypothetical way which you would prefer, you might choose the hovercraft. Why not?
This speculative approach is Belief Driven Research. It is research designed to give the illusion that one's viewpoint is true even when there is little proof it is.
If you are a strong supporter of hovercraft and you want to prove their popularity, do some research. Just make sure the questions are designed to persuade participants that hovercraft are a great idea.
Which brings us to Internet radio in the car.
A new piece of research making the rounds recently "proved" that a third of drivers would listen to Internet radio rather than local broadcasts if they had Internet access in their car.
The research question that proved this is a classic example of belief driven research. Here’s the question asked:
If tomorrow you could get Internet access from the dashboard of your car and you could listen to thousands of stations from all over the world through an Internet receiver on your dash as easy to use as your radio, would you (a) Listen less to my local radio stations as I explore new ones online, or (b) Listen just as much to my local radio stations no matter what's online.
The question is designed to influence the response by over-selling the desired outcome.
Given the phrasing, of course people are going to be interested. As easy as listening to local stations? Thousands of stations? From all over the world? Sure, sign me up!
If there’s a downside, the question doesn’t mention it.
By emphasizing the positive aspects of Internet radio, and ignoring the negative aspects, the authors of the question are manipulating the outcome to show support for Internet access in the car.
A more objective effort to determine the interest in Internet access would mention both the advantages and disadvantages.
Mentioning up-front costs and a continuing subscription fee would offer the participant a more realistic choice, but it would drive interest down.
The notion that the driver could listen to thousands of stations as easily as listening to local stations is also a bit of wishful thinking, but is portrayed as a given.
As we recently wrote, the average listener has little interest in listening to stations from around the world, let alone while driving to work.
Perhaps that is why despite the absence of a balanced description of in-car Internet only a third of the participants chose Internet radio over local radio.
Presented with the disadvantages, the numbers would have been even lower.
The survey question that followed is just as manipulative. The question asks:
Which would you rather have a radio in your iPod or mp3 player or an Internet radio and access to thousands of stations in your car.
This is an odd, confusing, and arbitrary choice to present to participants. First, are we talking about an iPod like the Touch with Wi-Fi, or just a music player? Why not include iPhone and Android phones?
Are we talking about radio apps to listen to streaming stations or the FM chip?
The question is clearly selling the Internet radio option and downplaying the iPod option. Why else emphasize the thousands of stations aspect of the radio?
Despite selling the in-dash option, only 58% chose it over the iPod suggesting that the in-dash Internet radio is far from a slam-dunk.
These questions were not designed to objectively look at the future of in-car entertainment. They were created to support a belief about the future, and give the illusion that the belief is based on research.
Internet enabled cars are not exactly flying off the showroom floor. US car sales are a little over 11 million a year, and Ford has sold about 2 million Synch equipped cars since 2007.
What consumers are buying is a far more accurate indication of intent than a study with hypothetical questions. As the author of this study once observed:
The difference between opinions and behaviors is the difference between a poll and a vote. Dewey, meet Truman. This study is, in other words, fine for publicity - and that it certainly got. But it changes nothing and means nothing and is, in a word, wrong.
In this case, we agree with him.
In an upcoming post we’ll look at a different misuse of research, mischaracterizing the research of others to advance the new-media narrative.