GamesBeat

Numbers Matter: Why people will believe anything on the Internet

Recently, the gaming sphere has been abuzz with news of a divorce study performed by the "prestigious" legal institution Divorce Online. The study claimed that a significant amount of new divorce filings in 2010 were due to spousal neglect. More specifically, the study indicates that video games are at the root of many couples' marital problems. The Daily Mail — which also isn't exactly the most reliable source — was the first to run this story. Gaming sites soon followed suit.


Are we getting divorced? Or are we in a commercial for
depression meds? Maybe it's both….

Even if you agree with the conclusions of the study in a general sense (say, that video games can be damaging to a marriage), this particular study features a couple glaring issues that should prevent any news outlet from taking it seriously. The Daily Mail reported that "Of those wives who cite unreasonable behaviour for ending their marriage, 15 percent believe their partners put gaming before them." The dubious methodology of the study doesn't successfully prove this point. For instance, here are two simple problems:

  • The Divorce Online sample size was only 200 people. (This is exceptionally tiny!)
  • This statistic only reflects Divorce Online users. (It only takes into account people who used DivorceOnline.com to file for divorce. The "researchers" didn't attempt to get a random sample of divorcees, which would have made this study a lot more meaningful.)

What does this mean?

 

To start with, even Pew studies, which many statisticians refuse to take seriously, have samples sizes of at least 1000. To make matters worse, this "study" by Divorce Online doesn't say anything meaningful about the average divorcee. It only looks at a) women who b) cited unreasonable behavior as grounds for divorce and c) blamed video games for the neglect. It's a subset of a subset of a subset of divorcees.

Honestly, the most meaningful thing someone could glean from this data is that Divorce Online saw a tiny increase in something — namely, video-game-related neglect — and thought they might get a few clicks out of it. I guess they were right.

I know that sites like Joystiq and The Escapist are supposed to report the news with as much impartiality as possible, but really, when The Daily Mail promulgates something this glaringly fallacious as a meaningful statistic, some skepticism is in order.

Really, you should never regard anyone who uses god-awful stock photos on their homepage as a reliable fact-finding institution:


Hello from 1995!


You can read more from Mark at 2 Gays 1 Joystick.


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