You may have noticed Dallas blog Central Track surveying people about their sex lives outside of concerts and festivals for the past 16 months, as the site so proudly declares in their multi-part article, “The Great Dallas Sex Survey.” I remember first noticing the survey at the booth they had at the so-called “single best day in Dallas,” the Homegrown Festival. I was left wondering how you could have possibly had the “single best day” of your year from under a damn booth, asking people about their sexual practices, and ignoring everything around you. And they still turned in a review of the festival, despite the fact that they were stationary most of the day. Not really how I think one should conduct himself when reviewing live music, but I’m no expert. When it comes to compiling data on sex surveys? I’m no expert on that either. It turns out, neither is anyone at Central Track.
Upon first reading the first batch of results from the “Great Dallas Sex Survey,” I got the feeling that this was not exactly science or statistically sound research. Even the imagery, such as keys going into locks, or the simplistic breakdown of sexual orientation—it all struck me as heteronormativity. I decided to ask an old associate of mine, named Megan Carroll—who is now a professor and PhD candidate at USC in sociology and gender studies—what she felt about the methodology. (Full disclosure: Megan used to play violin with me in an ensemble, and left the group to continue her studies at USC.)
Carroll agreed that my feelings were well-founded about the survey, but conceded the following: “Yeah, the questions are heteronormative, but honestly they’re not much worse than standard sexuality surveys that aren’t specifically designed for LGBT populations.” She even gave the site credit for splitting up certain acts: “I like that they asked about oral, vaginal and anal sex separately. Though the best survey practice to determine sexual orientation is to ask about attraction and behavior and identity (whereas they only asked about identity… and “homosexual” is seriously out of date)…” I agreed. The use of the word homosexual was one of the first red flags when I saw the survey. ”But my judgment is based on seeing similar questions in surveys created by notoriously un-hip, non-feminist quantitative sociologists,” Carroll said.
But it’s when it came to the statistical methodology, where Carroll disagreed most. “Their sampling method is a dead giveaway. The most basic rule of statistics is that you need to have a random sample to apply your findings to a population (in this case: all Dallasites), and surveying people outside an event is obviously not a random sample.” Apparently you can’t say that this is applicable to the city at large, but rather only those that fill out surveys at Central Track events. Those events are largely as sponsor-heavy as any event I’ve ever witnessed, so maybe it tells us something about people who live in Dallas and fill out sex surveys at sponsored events. “They’ve succeeded in telling us some interesting things about the type of people who attend their events, but that’s ALL they’ve told us and really, who cares.”
Of course blogs are not beholden to the same rigorous standards that academics and researchers are, which is merely another lesson of our times. “Academic survey research also has to be approved by an institutional review board (IRB), and methodologies and findings are subject to peer review before publication,” said Caroll. “So yeah, it’s pretty insulting to my profession to present this crap as ‘research.’ It’s not.”
Like any good professor, Carroll seemed most concerned about her pupils when presented with the junk pseudo science of the Central Track survey. “It’s a really great example of why I tell my students that basic methods literacy is the most important skill they’ll learn as soc[iology] majors – to reject bs like this and produce worthwhile knowledge.”
Turning the tables on Central Track, Carroll gives an unscientific character profile of the authors. “It reads like it was written by a group of frat boys who maybe took one intro to sociology course two years ago, got a C, and have been absorbing porn and 24 hr cable news shows ever since.”
Ultimately, the academic gave an assessment that I doubt even Central Track would argue to be untrue. “That being said, I am offended on the grounds that they seem to have no idea that this isn’t legitimate “research.” It’s not even journalism. It’s just entertainment.”
Maybe stick to entertainment, fellas? Leave the science of a subject this complex and important to the experts.
“Jingle Ball” (The Candleroom): I thought there was only one “Jingle Ball,” but it turns out that there is another slightly more charitable one. This one is at Mr. Tommy DeAlano’s Candleroom, and you are encouraged to “dress up like Santa,” “wear your tacky Xmas sweater,” and most importantly, donate money or a toy to the Family Place.
Other Wednesday shows—
“Vinyl Preservation Society” (The Crown and Harp)
Image: From Showtime’s Masters of Sex