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On the street where she lives

March 29th, 2005

Dr Petra

Want to know the best location in London to chat up women? Well worry no more, since a new study released today showed the optimum flirting location is – Kensington!

Presumably with these findings, any men wanting to ask out women, and any single gals should move there straight away.

Or maybe not.

Predictably this ‘survey’ of where women are most likely to be asked for a date, was a promotional exercise to get a dating agency some free copy. That’s not exactly a new problem. What is more of an issue is this was reported by the science correspondent of London’s Evening Standard.

Now maybe I’m being a bit critical, but perhaps they’re not making science correspondents the way they used to – you know, ones who ask questions about rigour, sampling, method, data, and analysis.

Here are some questions the science correspondent might have asked:

The ‘survey’ was based on 600 men across different boroughs of London, but were those men sampled living in that area, or were they just passing through? We’re not told.

Participants were asked ‘Would you ask out a stranger?’, but this doesn’t really tell us anything. In order to assess the best place to ask someone for a date, surely the question should have been ‘What are the places in London you’ve asked a stranger for a date and they’ve said ‘yes’?’

Only men were included in the survey, so how do we know this is an accurate picture? They may say the know the areas where they’d be more likely to ask a woman for a date – but what’s it like from a woman’s point of view? Where do women think they’re more likely to be approached? And where are the geographical areas where women are more likely to accept a date or run a mile? Why was the focus only on straight men approaching (one assumes) straight women? What about the experiences of gay men, lesbians or bi women and men?

The ‘findings’ – proudly reproduced in a table within the science correspondent’s piece, are little more than a bunch of raw data. Even a GCSE student is told that you need to do more than present raw scores. Where’s the analysis here? Maybe that might reveal there’s more than one borough where people may feel they could ask someone out. Why didn’t the science correspondent ask for it?

And what about existing research? There are some psychological studies that indicate straight men are more likely to accept the offer of a date from a woman, than straight women are from a man. This has been put down to evolution (women are more monogamous), but is more likely to be cultural. Women are taught from childhood about the dangers of strangers, and that ‘nice girls’ probably don’t say yes to a date offered by a man on the street. Perhaps some of that information might explain this ‘survey’. Yet none of that information was brought into the story, even though a psychologist was a spokesperson for the research. Why didn’t she provide that data – or question the quality of the research, or the built in assumption that only men do the asking out, and everyone’s straight.

Overall, this is yet another non story. It doesn’t tell you the ‘streets where love is in the air’ – as the headline promises. Instead it gives a vague round up of places where men think they might approach a woman and ask for a date. Not where they have asked a woman out, or where she’s said yes. And what women think isn’t mentioned.

This is a gift for a science correspondent. No science, just fluff, and lots of background evidence with an easy opportunity to deconstruct the ‘data’.

Wonder why it didn’t happen?

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