April 23, 2012 • 1:24 pm

In a factchecker’s world, this is one claim that should have been put to bed seven years ago.

In summer 2005 several news outlets reported on the “naked ambition” of teenage girls after a survey supposedly found that 63 per cent said they would rather be glamour models than nurses, teachers or doctors.

However the survey itself was exposed as essentially bogus, at least in how it was translated into news stories. At the time, Dr Petra Boynton said of it in her blog:

“The ‘study’ (to promote a mobile entertainment company), asked girls aged 15-19 if they’d like to be someone like Abi Titmuss, Germaine Greer or Anita Roddick. Perhaps not surprisingly 63% stated they’d like to be a glamour model [they chose Abi Titmuss]…

…Had the survey asked teenage girls to pick between glamour models and other young celebrities – film stars, sportswomen or television presenters, then perhaps a different result again might have emerged”

Dr Boynton points out several ways in which the survey simply does not show that 63 per cent of girls want to be glamour models. Their preference for Abi Titmuss could have been based on her fame, or simply the limited selection of other celebrities to compare her to.

However freelance writer and journalist Sarah Ditum today pointed out on her blog that the rogue statistic is still at large. She shows that, as recently as yesterday, the Guardian mentioned in an article on lads’ magazines:

“a 2005 poll revealed that 63% of young women would rather be glamour models than nurses, doctors or teachers”

Sarah also cites the figure in the 2009 NUS Women’s campaign policy, Object.org.uk’s FAQ to lads’ mags and ‘The Equality Illusion’ (2011) by Kat Banyard.

The fact that the same figure still makes it into national newspaper articles even today demonstrates the huge importance of checking where startling figures actually come from before they are used. ‘Chinese whispers’ have also eroded the detail behind the 63 per cent figure so that it is no longer mentioned that it was even based on celebrity role models at the time.

This is hardly the first time we have seen such chinese whispers make nonsense of an important debate. One thing that prompted Full Fact was the unhappy saga of fiction being presented as fact in the debate over CCTV.

Full Fact has also tackled similar publicity surveys recently and continues to push for all pollsters to sign up to the Market Research Society’s Code of Practice, so that the surveys themselves are more robust, and the reports that follow them more robust as a result.

As we’ve said before, good blogging isn’t enough to put these kinds of claims to rest. It is important now for the NUS, Object, newspapers, authors and other organisations who have cited this figure to acknowledge its dubious provenance, correct the record and make sure they don’t use it again.

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