How obsessed is Ireland about property?

Brian Lucey flagged this on his twitter feed this morning.

If you don’t want to click through, yesterday he posted the same post twice to his blog; the sole difference being that the two pieces had different titles, one property related, one more general. I’d almost say celebrity mag styled actually but I could be being unfair – the dentist rarely has the end of year edition of Hello or VIP given I have my annual check up in October.

Anyway. The money quote is this:

By a margin of almost 5-1 the property titled post got more hits

The title of Brian’s piece asked “Just how obsessed is Ireland about property?” ┬ábut aside from the quote above, he doesn’t actually draw a conclusion – I imagine he leaves it as an exercise to the reader but by implication, he seems to be suggesting that Ireland is obsessed about property by a margin of 5 to 1 over more generic subject blog posts.

I’m going to assume that Brian Lucey has his tongue stuck firmly in his cheek with this but I’m going to do a little spelling out here. You cannot draw any conclusions from the outcome of this experiment based on the information given by Brian in the relevant post.

Here’s why.

  1. We do not know what the sample size was. It is possible (unlikely but even so) that Brian got six hits on his blog total yesterday. The population of Ireland is circa 4.5 million, so it’s dangerous to do any extrapolating the view of the population at large without knowing how large the sample was.
  2. We do not know what the source of the hits were: 1) links from other websites 2) links from Brian’s own Twitter account 3) links from Facebook, Google Plus or any of the main discussion forums, or from his rss feed. This is troublesome because it means we cannot cater for possible bias. If, for example, the bulk of Brian’s hits came from his Twitter followers, it is not safe to assume that this is a random selection of Irish people as 1) people who follow Brian’s twitter feed are more likely to be interested in economic matters and potentially property matters as he speaks about property on the media quite often and a lot of his pieces for the Examiner are property based 2) and there’s a slight bias in social media users against the older population.

    In my view, people who follow Brian Lucey’s writings either on twitter or through the Irish Examiner are more likely to be predisposed to have an interest in Irish property than the population at large. Put simply, it is getting harder to get a random sample of the Irish population easily. ┬áThe same goes for people who read NamaWinelake by the way – it is a special interest site which draws people on account of that special interest. To get a random sample, it would be almost better to post the two links on a forum dedicated to – say – GAA supporters – as that would remove the confounding variable of an already existing interest.

 

Here’s a useful primer on why this matters. One of the more famous wrong headlines in history is the Chicago Tribune’s headline announcing Dewey’s victory in the 1948 US Presidential election, an underlying support of which were telephone polls. In 1948, access to a telephone was not uniform across the population, and favoured the more well off than the general population. As a result, if you do not have a valid sample, then your conclusions cannot be guaranteed to be valid. In fact, it’s getting harder to this in Ireland – someone I know noted once that 30 years ago if you took a random sample of mass goers in Ireland you were probably pretty close to a reasonable random sample of the wider population. But because the population of mass goers has changed vis-a-vis the wider population, this was no longer the case.

All I can conclude from Brian’s piece is this. Given a choice between two posts yesterday, five sixths of those reading his blog chose the one most likely to be about property. Given the lack of information about the population reading his blog and the population at large, the size of the sample size and the existing possibility of bias amongst people who read his blog, you cannot draw any conclusions about the wider population of Ireland.

 

I’m pretty sure Brian knows this by the way, but one of the things which tends to concern me about Ireland is the lack of attention to detail regarding figures, numbers and statistics and how they are interpreted. Statistics can be twisted because the vast majority of people are not aware of their limitations in this area.