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When Asking the Wrong Question Ruins the Data

by Andrew White  |  April 14, 2017  |  Comments Off on When Asking the Wrong Question Ruins the Data

An articles headline in today’s US print edition of the Wall Street Journal would make my oldest son happy.  It reads, “Study Tells College Students to Sleep Late.”  He and I have for years argued over bedtime and sleeping late.  The article would be his arrow against my argument, if he were up early enough to read it, that is.

But article is a fallacy.  It reports the findings of two surveys looking at first and second year college students in the US and U.K.  The findings suggest that such students are not ‘at their best’ neurologically until around 11am.   The one quote from a student is that he has to go to bed late due to all the work he has to do, and go to early class in order to go to football practice in the afternoon.

What the article does not do is describe any control group.  For example, my son tends to go to bed late after he has spent all afternoon working and studying, then spending several late evenings a week playing computer games with his friends.  I know many college kids do this.  This leads to sleep deprivation when you to get up early and so to the arguments I mentioned at the start of the blog.  Of course his best hours won’t be at 8am – he is too tired from going to bed at midnight or even later.  Any adult with children can tell you that!

But a control group that went to bed, honestly, at a reasonable time such as 9pm or even 10pm, might have yielded different results.  But there is no mention of this in the report.  One just assumes that was missed due to space restrictions.  So even though the headline would be grasped by my oldest son as ammunition to fob off my ministrations, the fact is the conclusions of the report itself suggest a change in behavior (get up later and later) that is itself dependent on a previous change in behavior (going to sleep later and later).  Duh.

Parents know best.  Just wait until he is in my shoes.  Oh, I know my father said the same thing to me.  As I am sure yours did to you too….


Category: personal  

Andrew White
Research VP
8 years at Gartner
22 years IT industry

Andrew White is a research vice president and agenda manager for MDM and Analytics at Gartner. His main research focus is master data management (MDM) and the drill-down topic of creating the "single view of the product" using MDM of product data. He was co-chair… Read Full Bio

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