An issue of measurement

Experiment: Have a little bit of fun and learn something too!

This is my new favorite video:

I laughed and I cried. It is seriously amusing and has some serious issues with measurement!

My biggest complaint is the questions. Here is the list of questions that are asked during the video.

Positive questions:

  • Which one seems like he has more friends?
  • Which one gets invited to more parties?
  • Which of these bosses would give you a raise?
  • Which one has a better sex life?

Negative questions:

  • Which one has more imaginary friends?
  • Which one gets invited to more bridge tournaments?
  • Which one is the bad cop?
  • Which one would fire you when you asked for a raise?
  • Which one never puts money into the employee gift pool?
  • Which one really enjoys giving you a ticket?

From a measurement perspective, if we really want to get an answer, questions should be the measure of a single construct. Reading these questions, the construct would seem to be something related to “popularity” or “gregariousness” perhaps. But it is not a measure of the observed popular/gregarious behavior, just how the respondents imagine the popularity/gregariousness of the twin. Personally, I think the social stigma surrounding gum chewing is that it makes you look dumb. But none of the questions asked about intelligence, education, or professionalism! Watch the video again with the sound muted and ask yourself:

  • Which one holds an advanced degree?
  • Which one cares about the environment?
  • Which one reads to their child at night?
  • Which one has fought for social justice?

These questions may seem just as silly (and are just as imagined as the previous questions), but my perception of the video changes dramatically! Try it! It’s fun!

I would argue that the real difference is not the gum, but what happens to people when they are inspected and don’t have anything to do. The twins not chewing gum are forced to take on a very stoic, almost unhuman expression. It is not the lack of gum, but the lack of movement that makes us uneasy. If the twins could move around like normal, the results would have been very different! (this might fit under the category of “resting bitch face”).

So, why do these silly things catch my attention? Why can’t I just forget it?! The issues with measurement, the search for “truth”, and the shady use of statistics drive me crazy! This video is one of the reasons that anti-intellectual feelings exist in the world. There are people watching think this is a real study! Or a real art installation! In fact, it is a very very strange advertising campaign.


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