I think it might be time to conduct a survey on, well, er, surveys. An up-to-date survey in the popular press tells us what we've known known all along: that men see things differently from women. Ooh, sorry, that was yesterday...
Today it's reported, from Rochester University in the United States, that both sexes actually share 'a vast range of identical traits.' Mmmm.... really? Like the desire to win the lottery? The need to spend two weeks in the Bahamas? I can think of lots of things I share with my other half, but that doesn't make us alike. The truth is that very often surveys are conducted on behalf of people who have something to sell, an axe to grind, or dare I say it, journalists who need a story on a non-news day.
If you happen to be famous, of course, it's even easier. Take Pippa Middleton. She presumably conducted lots of surveys before writing her book on entertaining and revealing that most English people prefer to eat turkey at Christmas... (sorry, Pippa, only joking)
When I was a child my mother, who was a stay-at-home housewife, took a part-time job doing surveys for Gallup Poll.* She would go into people's houses and ask them their favourite foods, holidays, social habits etc, all commissioned by companies with something to sell. The questions were often structured to elicit the 'correct' answers - the participants were then given a reward, the 'interviewers' paid and and everyone ended up happy.
A few years ago when shopping in a major department store, I admired the wicker baskets in all shapes and sizes used for displays. 'Where can I find these?' I asked the assistant. 'Oh' she replied chirpily 'everyone asks that, but we don't sell them I'm afraid.' A true version of the old joke, 'You're the umpteenth person who's asked today, but there's no call for them.'
So the next time you read that 'People who like books use libraries' or 'Rich children have too much money,' spare a thought for the person who did the survey. I'm not suggesting there aren't genuine surveys out there, but when it comes to how many crisps we all eat, personally I'd take it with a pinch of salt
* With fond memories of George Horace Gallup - the man who started it all.