PR Women PR master PR cookery PR at the age of PR 55: PR survey PR
Where do I even start with this?
Women only become perfect cooks when they hit the age of 55
So says this article on the Telegraph website. The article reports the outcome of a survey of 1000 women, which it calls “research”. But what can we actually take from these results? Well, not much. We can’t tell how reliable the survey was. Unfortunately, unlike in proper research, we have no way of knowing what questions were aked, how they picked the women they asked, whether anyone decided not to answer the questions, etc. So if we want to try to work out exactly what is meant by “mastering cookery”, to see whether it fits with what we might otherwise think it means (I really have no idea)… we can’t.
Admittedly, we get a bit of detail:
Women who have reached their mid-50s have a repertoire of more than 15 meals they can quickly rustle up, have mastered the timings for a roast dinner, know how to produce a thick gravy, and can make bread, ice cream and pasta from scratch. Half said they never used sauces from jars or packets and always made their own, and three-quarters said they regularly baked cakes and biscuits.
But were these spontaneous answers to open-ended questions, or were they multiple-choice? If the former, how were answers grouped together? If the latter, how did the people who carried out the survey establish the lists of possible answers? We have no way of knowing. Well, we could ask the journalist, the newspaper, the people who paid for the survey (see below) or those who asked the questions, but something tells me that wouldn’t get us very far. (Call me cynical all you like.)
And what news article about new research wouldn’t be complete without a comment from an expert? We are not deprived here:
It stands to reason that it takes time to master cookery, and confidence comes with age. And there is some truth in the fact that you learn from your mistakes – so women need to endure dinner disasters and mishaps in the kitchen before getting everything spot on. The real sign of a good cook is one who doesn’t panic when things do go wrong, instead finding a solution to the problem or even admitting to those she is cooking for that dinner has gone horribly wrong. Although we reach cookery perfection in our 50s, it’s interesting to note that most women reach their big ‘milestones’ on their culinary journey in their 20s.
Aha! Confirmation! Although… who said this? None other than Co-operative Food’s head of marketing. Ah. Hardly an independent expert, then. In fact, the whole survey was commissioned by the Co-op in the first place. So this is an advert for a food shop, masquerading as news about research.
One of the problems with this kind of public-relations survey is that they have a veneer of truth and sciencey-ness about them. Intuitively, it makes sense that people generally get better at doing things over time, and practise makes perfect. In fact, if you ask the right questions, of the right people, in the right way, you can get them to say pretty much anything, making the results meaningless.
This stuff is rife. I only picked out this particular example because someone happened to send it to me in response to some other, tangentially related point of conversation. There are plenty more cases out there. Newspapers today are no longer restricted by page size – the costs of publishing online do not go up as you increase the amount of content you produce, but the revenues generated by advertising do. So dashing off quick’n'easy articles like this one becomes more tempting. Sad face.
Incidentally, at what age do men become perfect cooks? Or does that question not fit with the Co-operative’s and Telegraph’s vision of reality? Does that narrative not tick enough PR boxes?