Honesty Lab – you decide

Our guest blogger today is Stefan Fafinski telling us all about the results of our mass participation survey Honesty Lab.

Last Thursday saw the Press Launch for the Festival at the British Science Association’s offices in London. We arrived in the nick of time for the press conference, but not quite in time (incident on the Hammersmith flyover) for the best of the Danish pastries. It is always hectic – a mass of last minute press-pack photocopying and fine tuning of press releases. We’d got our initial findings together along with a short presentation – unfortunately we thought we had twenty minutes to present followed by questions, whereas it turned out to be five minutes talk tops, and then field questions from the journalists. So we (almost literally) ran through the findings thus far. Generally-speaking, women are more likely to think that something is dishonest than men but men are more likely to convict. Also, it appears that as we get older, we are more likely to think that something is dishonest than younger people. And, as we suspected, there was no ‘ordinary standard of reasonable and honest people’. It seemed to go down pretty well. One thing we’ve learnt over the years is that journalists love statistics and we were fortunate on this occasion to have tons of them. We didn’t have to resort to any of the 35.8% of statistics that are made up on the spot. Almost 50,000 individual videos have been judged over the last few months which has given us the pleasure of having an enormous data set and the despair of having to analyse it. (At this point, we have to mention the so-far unsung hero of the experiment, Steve Whennell, who knows more about churning quantitative data than is good for anyone and has helped us to stretch SPSS and Excel to bursting point. Thanks, Steve.) There are, as always, exceptions to all this. There are a handful of scenarios which men tended to find more dishonest – such as keeping the change when undercharged in a department store. 42% of men thought this was dishonest, compared with 32% of women. Perhaps women go to department stores more often and think they’re fair game? One comment said ‘Yeah, go for it! She has got a bargain’ and another ‘I can’t really judge her as this has happened to me ten times in the last year’ (mental note: find out where she shops). An exception to the ‘disapproving older people’ trend is that the over 50s are less likely to think that ‘gold diggers’ (for want of a more-PC expression) are dishonest: perhaps in their own personal balance sheet, a few expensive gifts and holidays show a justifiable return on investment. As one respondent said ‘as long as he’s happy, then that’s fair enough’. Someone somewhat younger said ‘if he’s not senile or mentally ill, go nuts!’ – a potential WAG in the making, I reckon. The journalists are doing their thing as I write this. The story (as well as this blog) are embargoed until Monday morning – so we’ll see if we get some column inches in the morning. We’re already booked up to do some radio and BBC TV tomorrow and Radio 4 are coming for a chat on Wednesday; as long as we don’t forget to turn up to our session at the Festival on Thursday we should be fine. Hope to see you then. Honest.

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