Everything on the Internet is true

I want to believe
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Maybe I’ve watched too many episodes of The X-Files. Or maybe this is my search for the damn Smoking Man. Enough retro television.

The Communitech team published a blog post linking to a speech from Anne Golden, the President and CEO of the Conference Board of Canada. The speech, titled Canada’s Innovation Conundrum, claims that “two-thirds of Canada’s high-tech start-ups” are in Kichener/Waterloo-Cambridge-Guelph.

“But the fact is that the so-called “technology research triangle” of Kitchener/Waterloo-Cambridge-Guelph, home of the Blackberry inventor, Research-in-Motion, accounts for about two-thirds of Canada’s high-tech start-ups. 1 The Blackberry is the exception, not the rule. We need ten more Blackberry’s across the country.”

They’ve kindly added a link to the original source of this “reference” material. It’s an article written by Toronto Star columnist David Olive that provides no reference and link to any of the statistics provided.

“The so-called “technology research triangle” of Kitchener/Waterloo-Cambridge-Guelph, home of BlackBerry inventor Research in Motion Ltd., accounts for about two-thirds of Canada’s high-tech start-ups. Sarnia is Ontario’s leading centre for chemical production and petroleum refining. Hamilton and Sault Ste. Marie have benefited from high world prices for steel; and Sudbury is riding a global boom in nickel prices. “

Not a shred of actual data. Just opinion and made up, unsubstantiated numbers. But I guess since it’s published in newspaper it must be true.

If it is on the Internet it must be true
If it is on the Internet it must be true from Uncyclopedia

In grade 7 & 8 at Orchard Park Public School, Howard Isaacs taught media awareness and critical thinking to his students. Just because it’s in the media doesn’t make it true. I’m sure that it was part of a campaign to teach media awareness in the 1980s as described in Specific Approaches to Media Education however since this is based on a report, “Specific Approaches to Media Literacy,” Barry Duncan et al. Media Literacy Resource Guide, Ontario Ministry of Education, published in 1989 after I was in Howard Isaacs classroom, it’s not the original source.

For me it calls in to question the validity of the research that an organization like the Conference Board of Canada conducts and the policy that it influences. The Conference Board of Canada:

“builds leadership capacity for a better Canada by creating and sharing insights on economic trends, public policy and organizational performance.”

But how can you conduct contract research or influence policy using made up numbers. There should be great concern for any politician or agency or company hiring the Conference Board of Canada to conduct research. This is shameful use of unsubstantiated statistics and data. It calls into question the legitimacy of any of their research or economic analyses.

9 thoughts on “Everything on the Internet is true”

  1. I disagree with “But how can you conduct contract research or influence policy using made up numbers. There should be great concern for any politician or agency or company hiring the Conference Board of Canada to conduct research. This is shameful use of unsubstantiated statistics and data. It calls into question the legitimacy of any of their research or economic analyses.”

    The Conference Board of Canada creates data based on many sources, that’s its job. Similar to Gartner or Forrester most of the sources they cite are their very own survey's or research papers etc… see http://a964.g.akamaitech.net/7/964/714/63186d8d… and http://www.conferenceboard.ca/reports/cmaag/201

    When you create data yourself there are many factors involved in the use of that data that may be misconstrued as incorrect data. In reality I think it is usually an incorrect evaluation of that data. Think about the census which is the basis for a lot of facts on the web, there are multiple articles written about the validity of its data http://www.recorder.ca/ArticleDisplay.aspx?arch… and http://westernstandard.blogs.com/shotgun/2010/0… and http://www.gnocdc.org/articles/censustrust.html (us census).

    The point I am trying to make is that it is rarely the data that is at fault, most of the time it is the misuse of that data or the laziness of the author in only using one source. To quote a recent blog post from Norman Spector of the Globe and Mail:
    Lester Markel, who ran the Sunday sections of The New York Times for nearly forty years, described the news-gathering process this way:
    “The reporter, the most objective reporter, collects 50 facts. Out of the 50 he selects 12 to include in his story (there is such a thing as space limitation) … [and] discards 38. This is Judgment Number One.
    “Then the reporter or editor decides which of the facts shall be the first paragraph of the story, thus emphasizing one fact above the other 11. This is Judgment Number Two.
    “Then the editor decides whether the story shall be placed on Page One or Page 12; on Page One it will command many times the attention it would on Page 12. This is Judgment Number Three.
    “This so-called factual presentation is thus subjected to three judgments, all of them most humanly and most ungodly made.”

  2. Hi Eric,

    Thanks for the additional thought provoking information.

    I think that the Conference Board of Canada's use of unsubstantiated data like the data from David Olive's Toronto Star piece is different than the created self research that includes methodology and data sets (as documented in the link you provided or in many Gartner or Forrester reports). This is use of opinion presented as data. This is a much deeper flaw.

    The self reported data sets and methodologies can be scrutinized.

    The substitution of unsubstantiated opinion and presenting it as factual information is much worse.

    The flaws of fourth estate in the reporting and interpretation to support stories is one thing. It's when journalists make stories and sources up – this makes it fiction and not news.

    And you are correct, my criticism of the Conference Board is strong worded. But I suspect that is because most of the politicians and decision makers influenced by their work do not perform the critical analysis to separate fact from fiction.

  3. Sloppy work on the part of the Conference Board. (I was on one of their research committees. This is not what I would have expected.) Her use of the number brings the Conference Board stamp which does carry weight in policy circles.

    It takes away from the overall thrust of the speech and credibility of other claims and its recommendations.

    (
    As a percentage, it is based on what – number of companies, revenues, what defines a “high tech”, what time period?

    I thought, at first, this might be a misstatement of the university spin-off statistic that attributes a larger proportion of university spin-offs in Canada to the University of Waterloo. But a bit of digging came up with 22% as this claim, based on 1999 data. (And Gary Will took this number apart in http://www.garywill.com/digest/wtd0510.htm (scroll down). It shows up on the City of Waterloo site http://www.city.waterloo.on.ca/DesktopDefault.a… and other places.)
    )

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