I need your help. I’ve been trying for years to explain what’s wrong with the cheater technique. That’s the one where researchers compare all single people (whether they want to be single or not) to only those married people who got married and stayed married (setting aside the nearly half who divorced, and all the widowed), rather than all of the people who ever got married. Based on that methodologically laughable approach, they then proclaim that if only you single people would get married, you would be happier, healthier, live longer, and (fill in your favorite bogus claim here), too.
I’ve explained the problem with the cheater technique in great detail in Chapter 2 of Singled Out. I posted an excerpt at Living Single. I explain it again with each new bogus scare story that hits the media. But lots of people still don’t seem to get it.
Let me tell you about the latest instance, the one that motivated me to write this post. About a week ago, I was contacted by the reporter who wrote about the latest bogus claim about how singles are doomed to an early death. I was happy that she gave me a heads-up about her story, and an opportunity to comment. I read the original report, then referred her to Chapter 2 of Singled Out and the excerpt I posted at Living Single. Then I decided to put everything else aside and write a version of the lengthy post critiquing that mortality article that I published just a short time ago at Living Single. I wanted to explain to her, in great detail, what was wrong with the claims made in the article. I like to write out the arguments so people can read them and reread them. But I talked to the reporter at some length, too.
I don’t think she understood what was wrong with the research she described. (She does quote me accurately at the end, after checking and then revising the initial quote she was going to use. I loudly applaud fact checking!) Maybe she never did read anything I sent her or recommended to her, but I did talk to her.
Maybe she was already too invested in the story she was planning to write when she talked to me. She had the assignment (and getting to write for MSNBC is a plum assignment, at least based on readership), perhaps had the storyline in her head, and had talked to the lead author. Maybe it was unrealistic of me to hope for a better story at that late date.
I feel the same way about people who have built their publication lists, and sometimes their careers, on this bogus technique. Of course, they don’t want to see what’s wrong with it. I’m heartened when I talk to beginning graduate students, who have not yet planted their flag in any particular ground. They listen to what I have to say and seem to think it is obvious.
Still, I wonder whether there is a way I can make my points in a more compelling way. If you have ideas, I would love to hear them. Feel free to post them here and/or in the comments section of the Living Single post on the latest bogus mortality article. Thanks!