The Evil Imp

Surveying the Ridiculous

In our piece ‘quoted’ we argued that dance companies should stop using pull quotes from critics because, to be blunt, critics are ridiculous and caring about what they think is like caring if a serial killer has easy access to really sharp knives!

To prove us wrong (except, not really!) The Stage newspaper has published a story based on an extensive, scientifically conducted poll that illustrates “critics [honest injun] still crucial to theatre”.

Of course the only, really big, problem with that headline and the above paragraph in general is their survey was neither extensive nor scientific and was probably more capable of proving that muffins would be a good alternative source of jet fuel for passenger jets!

From the The Stage;

“Almost nine out of ten respondents (89%) to our questionnaire believe that critics still play a valuable role in theatre, although nearly half (46%) think they are less important than they were a decade ago. The survey was completed by around 350 people via and a form in our print edition.”

The percentages are irrelevant, the key number is the “350” respondents and the “The survey was completed by around 350 people via and a form in our print edition.”

350 people is a statistically irrelevant sample when you’re talking about “An overwhelming majority of theatre audiences and professionals” as The Stage is suggesting in its’ news piece. That audience probably amounts to several million people across the UK so asking 350 of them what they think is not going to give you an accurate, representative answer.

In addition, you can’t just slap a form on your website or in your print edition (they still have a print edition? Ed!) ask people to fill it in and take their word as gospel. You really need to make sure that the people who are filling out the survey aren’t, you know, critics themselves which would automatically exclude them from taking part.

You also need to make sure you don’t have one person sending multiple entries, that The Stage staff are not stuffing the vote (so to speak) or that people with a vested interest in the survey (again, critics themselves) are not getting their friends and family to skew the results.

Far from proving that “critics [are] still crucial to theatre” all The Stage have proven is that The Stage doesn’t know how to do a proper survey. Also, are we really expected to believe that a survey conducted by a publication that publishes innumerable reviews is going say “reviews, who the hell needs those?”

It would be like Article19 asking our cat if publishing performance videos was a good idea and proclaiming; “World agrees, publishing performance videos is vital to the existence of dance as we know it and Obama loves Article19 because the cat kind of alluded to that with his paw movements while being questioned!”

Update 12th May 2010: The Stage have told us that they have no problem with the number of respondents or whether or not the vast majority of the respondents could well have been critics themselves or people with a vested interest in pushing the importance of critics. The agree that all surveys are limited in the conclusions they can reach but they have no issue with the opening line of the news piece quoted above.