Chris Moerdyk

Actually, blacks are more beautiful than whites

2013-04-08 07:00

Chris Moerdyk

I was in a supermarket checkout queue on Friday chatting to a young mother and when we had finished complaining to each other about slow supermarket checkout queues, high food prices and road deaths, I asked her who she thought were South Africa's most beautiful people.

Without hesitation she said: "blacks".

Gosh, I thought to myself, I must get home as fast as possible and write my column for News24 in which I will release the results of my research into South Africa's most beautiful people and announce that the answer is unanimously "blacks".

Of course the young mother I was chatting to in the supermarket queue did just happen to be black but really, does that matter?

The point I am making is that the silly little university student who conducted a survey among 60 of her fellow students about South Africa's most beautiful people was not so much involved in a research exercise but fraud. She should be put in jail.

She might as well have just asked one person in the supermarket queue like I did. Or, she could have gone into Soweto and asked the same question of 100 people and the answer would have been completely different. And equally inaccurate. Beauty, after all, is in the eye of the beholder. Beauty is so subjective that it is effectively unresearchable.

But, this silly little student is not the only person who should be jailed for fraud for hoodwinking the gullible public.

Some really big research companies do exactly the same.

I remember about a decade ago, a national newspaper conducted a survey into what South Africans believed were the country's top brands. In the airline section South African Airways came out way ahead - top of the list. But, when I looked at the 3 000 people who were surveyed I found that the research company had chosen these strictly according to the socio-economic breakdown of the population.

Which as a result meant that about two thirds of the respondents had never ever flown in an aircraft. So, they just voted for SAA either out of patriotism or because they actually couldn't think of any other airlines.

The outcome was that this gave SAA the impression they were doing something right which of course is completely wrong given the trouble they are in today.

Then we have TV and radio stations asking viewers and listeners to SMS their vote. Like, "Should Top-TV be allowed to show porn?"

What happens in these cases is that mostly only those people who are violently opposed to porn will vote "no" while people who really don't mind whether or not porn is shown on TV won't bother to cast a vote. So, the results will show a resounding "no" when actually that might just be the opinion of a minority.

Research can be an extremely dangerous weapon in the hands of the wrong people. The fact is you cannot ever expect to get a straight, honest, answer to a simple question.

Try asking men what whisky they drink and the majority will tell you that they only drink expensive single-malt. That is the nature of man. The majority will not admit to drinking a cheap whisky and why should they? It's like admitting to a complete stranger that the reason you are perspiring is not because you have just been the gym but because your piles are giving you gip.

Frankly, amateur research is no joke. The repercussions can be extremely serious. It can inflame racial tension as it has clearly done in the case of the student at UCT or it can make SAA think they are actually a well run airline.

So, whenever you see the words "poll", or "research" - start by taking it with a pinch of salt and rather  find out just how it was done, how big the sample and how the questions were put to respondents.   

- Follow Chris on Twitter.

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