Americans’ Dirty Secret Revealed by Bjorn Carey
See also: Google News on washing hands [broken link was remove] – Soap and Detergent Association press release [another broken link was remove]
A study released recently spawned a flurry of articles on washing hands. I have seen such reporting before and again I find it interesting (as sad as that might be). The stories repeatedly say things like: “Men’s hands dirtier than women’s.” The study actual was focused on the percentage of people who washed their hands. While there is likely a correlation, making such leaps in reporting data is not wise. This example is often mirrored in the data use of organizations; where interpretations of the data are given as the facts instead of the data itself.
However that is not what I find most interesting. Instead I find the lack of operational definition interesting. In many of the articles they have quotes like:
Only 75 percent of men washed their hands compared to 90 percent of women, the observations revealed.
Claims are often made about results that only are justified based on unstated assumptions about the real world results that the data are meant to represent. But those claims are undermined when there is no evidence provided that the assumptions are valid. Without operational definitions for the data there is a significant risk of making claims about what the data means that are not valid.