“National Bullying Survey 2006”: A Critique
Statistics from polls, surveys, and other such tools for research can be a valuable means of getting information. But while statistics can be very useful in obtaining conclusions about a target population, it can also be misused—there are times when people use it to make false or misleading claims. Other times, the statistics presented are flawed and do not present an accurate description or representation of the issue at hand.
The National Bullying Survey 2006, conducted by Bullying Online, an organization touted “the most popular anti-bullying charity in the UK”, aims to find out the extent and effect of bullying in UK schools, as well as how this issue is being handled by school administrators. The sample group consists of 8,574 children, parents, teachers, and adults who were asked questions pertaining to their experiences with bullying.
While the survey is all for a commendable cause and the topic certainly is an important social issue, the results are very likely to have some grievous errors because all of it depends on what children said about their experiences with bullying. For example, one section states that “a staggering 85% [of schoolchildren] had seen someone else being bullied and 82% said they had tried to help.” One problem here is that if the students had been asked, “Did you try to help?” many would probably feel compelled to say that they did try to help even if they did not. It is likely that these statistics are not truly representative because other factors such as the children’s ego may have affected the results.
The most problematic part of the survey results report is the section on the long-term effects of school bullying, where adults who were presumably bullied as children were surveyed. The report says that “there are clearly long term effects on school bullying victims when 20% reported loss of confidence after their ordeal ended, 13% said it affected relationships, and 7% said it affected their job prospects. 9% said they had been suicidal and 8% said they had received medical treatment for mental health problems.”
This section is problematic because instead of surveying a random sample from the general adult population that contained both bullied and non-bullied adults, they only surveyed adults who had been bullied as children. They then conclude that the bullying caused the problems that the adults reported. The correlation between the bullying and the long-term effects on adults are merely speculation in this case.
The section stating that 9% of bullied adults have had suicidal thoughts and that 8% have sought psychiatric treatment can be considered as a case of hasty generalization, and is also a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. The survey did not even bother to include in the survey population any “normal” adults (those who have had no experience in bullying). It could very well be that even among adults who were not bullied as children, 9% would say that they have had suicidal thoughts, 8% would say they had received medical treatment for mental health problems, etc.
The report also does not say how the questions were phrased. This element is valuable because questions can be asked in a way that can influence the response of those being surveyed—questions can be phrased to make the desired response sound good, and vice versa. The fact that the organization is lobbying for a predetermined stand on the issue of bullying may render their results suspect—thus, it will be useful for their cause if most (if not all) aspects of the study are transparent.
Carnell, L. (2006). National bullying survey 2006: Results. Bullying Online. Retrieved November 6, 2006, from