Questioning the questionnaire

I have a big problem with questionnaires.

It's not that I do very many, but rather the fact that questionnaires make up a large portion of the "evidence" that is used by the Nannys to try to control my life.

Life consists of an almost infinite number of variables.  No two people are the same, so essentially any questionnaire should consist of an almost infinite number of options to each question.

I came across a very interesting example.

This questionnaire purports to predict the chances of dying within the next five years.  Now I would have thought that such a prediction would depend on a vast number of variables, yet somehow they base their predictions on a dozen or so questions.

The first two questions are pretty obvious – age and gender – but then, out of left field they ask how many cars I have!  Now I'm sure there is some logic behind this but let's concentrate on the question.  I am asked whether I have none, 1, 2, 3 or 4 or more.  They don't however ask any details.  I could own a car hire firm but prefer to walk everywhere, or I could have a garden full of rusting old wrecks.  Or maybe I'm a classic car collector but never use them except for special occasions?  Any of those options would result in an answer of 4 or more, but wouldn't impact on my health, or any other aspect of my life.

Anyhows, we pass trough another couple of straightforward questions until we come to our old friend – Do you smoke tobacco now?  There are only three options – basically Yes, Occasionally or No. 

I have a huge problem with this.  For a start, what is "occasionally"?  Does that mean twenty a day, or one a week?  When does "occasionally" become "regularly"? How many forty a day smokers would class themselves as an "occasional" smoker, simply because they don't smoke sixty?

That apart, they don't mention what kind of smoking.  I don't think anyone will disagree that there is a major difference between pipes, cigars, cigarettes and roll-your-owns, yet all are lumped into the same basket.  There is a great danger here that a cigar aficionado could be dumped into the same category as a fifty a day smoker of max-strength cigarettes.  There's no mention of inhaling either which is a slight omission?

But then we come to our walking habits.  Am I a "slow", steady" or "brisk" walker?  [I presume “none of the above” is for wheelchair users and people who can teleport?].  I would class myself as a steady walker sometimes and brisk at others.  If I'm with someone they invariably shout at me to slow down as my "steady" is their "brisk" and my "brisk" leaves them gasping in a heap.  The advantage if long legs?  If I'm with the dog I'm "slow" because she has to stop ever few yards to sniff some poo or pee on the pavement.  So what the hell do I answer to this one?  Apparently this is one of the major defining questions so a wrong answer can knock years off my life.

Then we have a few medical questions which again are a little simplistic.  If I haven't had diabetes, a stroke, cancer, angina or a couple of others then I'm fine, despite the fact that I could have some degenerative ailment which isn't mentioned. 

Then we have what I would call the "experience" question.  They ask if I have suffered a bereavement, an injury, a divorce or financial difficulties which is presumably designed to check for stress.  They leave out a whole load of other very high stress causes though.  They don't make any mention of moving house [near the top of the list for stress levels] for example. What if I am just about to face a major court case, with a real threat of imprisonment [relatively common these days with so many people in financial difficulties].  Come to think of it, what are "financial difficulties"?  Is my house about to be repossessed or am I just a bit overdrawn on my credit card?

They are some of the questions that are asked, but what about the questions that aren't asked?  Where is the mention of genetics or mental wellbeing?  I would have thought that someone with acute depression would be a higher risk than someone with too many [or too few] cars?  And what about lifestyle?  Again, there would be a huge difference in life expectancy between a sky-diver and a crown green bowler?

So here we have a questionnaire which illustrates the problem with all questionnaires – the questions are far too general and it relies totally on the honesty [and subjective judgment] of the victim.  While I'm not questioning the validity of this particular example, I am saying that it illustrates how a questionnaire can be easily slanted in favour of the expected result [the old “when did you stop beating your wife” syndrome].

Incidentally, I did the test and was as honest as it permitted.  I'm apparently younger than I thought [smoking apparently doesn’t that big an impact as I tried as a smoker and a non-smoker] and there is only a 6.3% chance I'll be dead in five years.

Or to put it in another way, there is a 93.7% chance I'll still be around annoying the hell out of everyone.

Quite good odds?

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Questioning the questionnaire — 13 Comments

  1. Many questionnaires are 'loaded'. They are similar to the old chestnut: Have you stopped beating your wife? All political questionnaires should ask a question with these possible answers:

    Will you vote for Joan Burton's crowd at the next general election?

    a. Yes  B. No  c. Who's Joan Burton?  d. Who are 'her crowd'?  e. Don't know  f. If she comes to my doorstep and gives me a big hug   g. Ask me next week  h. Stop asking me stupid questions

    • You forgot i. Possibly, j. Depends, k. Get off my fucking land.

      I see the Bold Joan opened a Twitter thingy yesterday supposedly to show how "in touch" she is.  I don't know what she expected but the abuse was hilarious!!!


    I filled this in using your link from my tablet and told them I am a non smoker. They then said my risk was average for my age. I did it again on the PC and said I was a regular smoker. Although my risk estimate doubled the verdict remained average for my age. The questionnaire is rubbish, but maybe not for the obvious reasons.

    • I just don't know how such things as the number of cars I have can have a bearing on longevity?  If they asked whether I used a bike, that might be different.

      Incidentally, two great add ons for Firefox…..

      Remove Cookies for Site [handy for doing questionnaires several times].

      CS Lite Mod [great for blocking a site such as Irish Times from using any cookies].

      Not that I would ever suggest that anyone should use those for such nefarious purposes as avoiding the Irish Times' Paywall or fiddling polls.  I wouldn't do that.  😈

  3. "I just don't know how such things as the number of cars"

    Maybe income/affluence/lifestyle related and nothing to do with exercise?

    Incidentally you don't need an add-on to block cookies from specific sites in Firefox, although it's a rather convoluted process instructions are available via google

  4. my results as a 70 year old woman who has had 7 kids…not really!

    1. Your Ubble age is 71 years (66 to 76 years)

    2. Your five-year risk of dying is 9.4%


  5. Answering these questionnaires is one of the few times I lie my head off. Same as when the doctor asks me all sorts of questions which have bugger-all to do with why I'm in his surgery in the first place; even the fucking dentist insists I fill in an A4 page of questions when all I want is a quick inspection to make sure I've got the same number of teeth I had twenty years ago. Lie like a churchman, that's my advice.

    • It depends on the questionnaire.  If it's a survey where the answers are collated into statistics then I lie like the clappers, as do a lot of people [hence the result that surveys are not that reliable], but if it's just a fun thing like the one above then I like to just run through them giving different answers to see the different results.

  6. Our household, yes 'Our Household' was selected more than a year ago by none other than UCD to fill in a questionnaire, which in hindsight was probably in more dept than that other annoyance, the census. So intent on gleaning where we sh*t last, they included a post free reply envelope and a few weeks before their expected return date, they sent us a reminder. I wouldn't wait up boys.

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