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?