Saturday, March 13, 2010

The news from Lake Wobegone: more from Growing up in Ireland

Aficionados of Garrison Keillor's fictional Minnesota town will know that in it "all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average" [& no, he wasn't talking about UCD]. This tendency to treat all members of a group as above average is now known as the "Lake Wobegone effect".
You will be reassured to know that it is alive and well in Ireland. In the marvellous Growing up in Ireland study parents and teachers were asked to rate the study members (8 year olds) at mathematics and reading.
You guessed it: in mathematics 52% of parents said their kid was above average and 40% said they were average. So only 8% of parents were horrible enough to admit their kids were below average. The corresponding figures for the teachers were 33%, 51% and 17% so more realistic but still not quite right & not just because these add to 101%.
I wonder have clever survey-jocks found a better way of eliciting the "true" place in the distribution? For example, what if you asked the interviewee what the mean was first and then asked then asked to to put a value on the statistic in question? Does it work better if you use the median rather than the mean?

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