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How 136 People Became 7 Million Illegal File-Sharers 313

Posted by Soulskill
from the lots-of-fertility-drugs dept.
Barence writes "The British government's official figures on the level of illegal file sharing in the UK come from questionable research commissioned by the music industry. The Radio 4 show named More or Less examined the government's claim that 7m people in Britain are engaged in illegal file sharing. The 7m figure actually came from a report written about music industry losses for Forrester subsidiary Jupiter Research. The report was privately commissioned by none other than the UK's music trade body, the BPI. The 7m figure had been rounded up from an actual figure of 6.7m, gleaned from a 2008 survey of 1,176 net-connected households, 11.6% of which admitted to having used file-sharing software — in other words, only 136 people. That 11.6% was adjusted upwards to 16.3% 'to reflect the assumption that fewer people admit to file sharing than actually do it.' The 6.7m figure was then calculated based on an estimated number of internet users that disagreed with the government's own estimate. The wholly unsubstantiated 7m figure was then released as an official statistic."
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How 136 People Became 7 Million Illegal File-Sharers

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  • Story meaning? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sopssa (1498795) * <sopssa@email.com> on Friday September 04, 2009 @07:10PM (#29318655) Journal

    I actually had several feelings about this summery, because:

    1) Usually pro-filesharers try to make it sound like filesharing is usual activity and try go for most or 70-90% user share
    2) The summary tries to paint this study bad because it "downsides" the amount of filesharers
    3) The rant about examining only 1,176 people for the study - in which case the same kind of tv viewer statistics and other studies are made in what case.

    So could someone please explain *why* is it a questionable research. It is like every other study where you study small amount of people and make estimates based on it to reflect whole population. Usually this amount of people also gives somewhat correct results on the whole population. Theres some error margin, but its close enough.

    So what is the point of this story? That statistics researches use only minor subset or people to do their research instead of asking from everyone? They always have.

    • Re:Story meaning? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Lemmy Caution (8378) on Friday September 04, 2009 @07:18PM (#29318747) Homepage

      Because statistics are hard and outrage is easy.

    • Re:Story meaning? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by bertoelcon (1557907) <berto.el.con@gmai l . c om> on Friday September 04, 2009 @07:25PM (#29318817)
      I think this could be summarized under lies. damn lies, and statistics.
    • Re:Story meaning? (Score:4, Informative)

      by wizardforce (1005805) on Friday September 04, 2009 @07:27PM (#29318829) Journal

      So could someone please explain *why* is it a questionable research.

      1. the same size is small.. probably too small to make the claims they did. 2. they altered the numbers on an estimate of how many people fileshare on the assumption that the number was under-reported. 3. conflict of interest... it's like the tobacco industry sponsoring studies claiming that smoking doesn't have anything to do with lung cancer... there is significant reason to believe that the study carries significant bias in favor of their conclusion and must at the least be repeated by other sources.

      So what is the point of this story? That statistics researches use only minor subset or people to do their research instead of asking from everyone? They always have.

      N. real statistics researchers know that this study has numerable crippling flaws and should not be held as gospel by anyone. Even a first year stats student can see it. The reason this story is important is that it may influence governmental policy and it's flawed... That's dangerous.

      • Re:Story meaning? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@hacki s h . o rg> on Friday September 04, 2009 @07:37PM (#29318923)

        It doesn't really make sense to claim "sample size is small" for an 1,100-person sample. If the sampling was done in a random, unbiased manner, that size sample gives a margin of error of +/- 3%. If there are flaws in the sampling method, that's another thing, but the sample size alone doesn't seem problematic, unless you need accuracy better than +/- 3%.

        • Re:Story meaning? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by wizardforce (1005805) on Friday September 04, 2009 @07:48PM (#29319053) Journal

          Oh I forgot to note this... anyway it addition to other potential flaws TFA says

          11.6% of which admitted to having used file-sharing software

          emphasis mine. They admitted to using file sharing software not pirating goods via said software... The study is effectively making the assumption that filesharing = copyright infringement. Also from TFA:

          The 6.7m figure was then calculated based on the estimated number of people with internet access in the UK. However, Jupiter research was working on the assumption that there were 40m people online in the UK in 2008, whereas the Government's own Office of National Statistics claimed there were only 33.9m people online during that year.

          Even if the study did get the sample size correct the conclusion would still be nearly 30% wrong owing to their false assumption of the number of people with net access. neglecting the distinction between filesharing and copyright infringement TFA estimates that the actual number is between ~30 and ~50% lower than the study claims.

          • Re:Story meaning? (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 04, 2009 @08:53PM (#29319619)

            The study is effectively making the assumption that filesharing = copyright infringement.

            I have a very hard time believing that the vast majority of people that use any filesharing application do so exclusivley for legit and non-copyright infringing purposes.
            Given the vast quantity of content, I seriously doubt that very many people go through any sort of hassle to determine what is legit and what is not, which results in virtually everyone obtaining material that is copyrighted, regardless whether they know (or care). Given that, I think its a fair guess on their part that yes, most people that claim they are using file-sharing software do so to obtain material illegally.

            I just don't understand the stance that most people on this board seem to take regarding this issue. How can everyone be so supportive of what very obviously amounts to theft? It appears to me that somehow people think it is their "right" to obtain copyrighted material for free. I just don't buy for a second that people who claim to only use file-sharing apps for legitimate purposes only actually do so.

            If you do indeed use all file-sharing applications for 100% legit purposes, please educate me what you use these services for that makes them so very essential to cause these very emotional posts here.

            • Re:Story meaning? (Score:4, Informative)

              by wizardforce (1005805) on Friday September 04, 2009 @09:23PM (#29319815) Journal

              I just don't understand the stance that most people on this board seem to take regarding this issue. How can everyone be so supportive of what very obviously amounts to theft?

              not everyone does obviously... most reasonable slashdotters advocate for reformed copyright pertly because of the unenforceable nature of longer copyright terms. many such as myself support the concept of a shorter more reasonable copyright term that does what the constitution requires: encourage the advancement of the arts.

              If you do indeed use all file-sharing applications for 100% legit purposes, please educate me what you use these services for that makes them so very essential to cause these very emotional posts here.

              most of the anger is directed toward the music/movie industry's response to piracy- weaken/destroy fair use, demonize all p2p [possibly restricting its use in the future out of fear] suing people as a scare tactic, excessive/un-constitutional fines, DRMed media etc...

            • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

              by dlthomas (762960)

              It does not "obviously" amount to theft. It *is* illicit, and it may be immoral (see Free Rider Problem [wikipedia.org]), but it is not theft. If I steal 10 M&Ms from you, you have 10 fewer M&Ms - not the case if I download your song, in which case you have less than you otherwise would have *if and only if* I would otherwise have paid for it. This clearly is not the case for, say, college students with tens of thousands of dollars "worth" of media on their hard drive.

              As for legal uses of "file-sharing" technolo

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              11 million world of warcraft players regularly use file sharing as a means to receive regular game updates. They could easily have picked up a bunch of those players and lumped them in with the "illegal" file sharing crowd. The study is bogus because it doesn't account for those situations.
               

        • by jrumney (197329)
          What does an "error of 3%" mean? Does it perhaps mean there is only a 50% chance (assuming normal distribution) that the proportion of filesharers in the total population is somewhere between 8.6% and 14.6%?
          • Re:Story meaning? (Score:4, Informative)

            by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@hacki s h . o rg> on Friday September 04, 2009 @07:58PM (#29319143)

            Basically, except that the confidence level for the interval is 95%, not 50%. Should've quoted that, but 95% is the usual assumed one.

            • Re:Story meaning? (Score:4, Informative)

              by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 04, 2009 @08:17PM (#29319303)

              A margin of error of +/- 3% is the Maximum margin of error for a random sample of 1100 drawn from a large enough population at the 95% significance level (actually its really +/-2.95%), i.e this is the margin of error when the observed % is 50% , The margin of error is less when the observed % approaches 0 or 100%.

              In the case of an observed % of 11.6 the margin of error is +/-1.9% so it is 95% likely that the population figure is between 9.8% and 13.5%

            • by jrumney (197329)
              Thanks, I'm now starting to count the time since I studied statistics in decades rather than years, but its starting to come back to me. So the norm is to assume 3 standard deviations, not 1 for the estimate of error.
        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by mysidia (191772)

          In this case, 3% is >1.17 million people.

      • Re:Story meaning? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 04, 2009 @07:49PM (#29319065)

        1. the same size is small.. probably too small to make the claims they did.

        First statistics lesson I ever had, first thing the professor did was make an estimate based on 10 people about the whole population. He was correct, by the way. He went on to rant that anything that uses large amounts of people (by which he meant more than at most a few dozen) was not proper statistics. If you simply count everybody, it should be called "counting", you see, not statistics.

        2. they altered the numbers on an estimate of how many people fileshare on the assumption that the number was under-reported.

        And since they are right that the number turned out to be bigger in other studies, slightly. It seems a reasonable adaptation. It's easy to say it's unreasonable, of course. But they are absolutely correct that the number is most likely smaller. So how much should they adjust it ? Like I said, it seems a reasonable adjustment. Not absurdly high, not absurdly low.

        3. conflict of interest... it's like the tobacco industry sponsoring studies claiming that smoking doesn't have anything to do with lung cancer... there is significant reason to believe that the study carries significant bias in favor of their conclusion and must at the least be repeated by other sources.

        There don't exist studies that have no bias. Either research is funded by companies, or it's funded by government. Both have serious axes to grind, mostly pertaining to political ideology. If business intrest groups would not fund research we'd never have even the semblance of unbiased research that we have.

        By the way, who should pay for studies ? Obviously the government has a vested interest in more legislation. The ifpi (us dept) has a vested interest in creating legal instruments to counteract filesharing. And the filesharers have a vested intrest in more "privacy", and legal instruments against ISPs (for the same reason a thief wants privacy, obviously, let's please not start the "what about those who only share openbsd", we all know that's not the filesharers being talked about).

        How about we do the sane thing, and let all of them fund studies. Then read them all, and see what we believe to be true.

        Just because people are biased, by the way, does not mean the truth can be biased. We are simply limited to imperfect instruments for reading the truth. Truth is absolute, and the number of filesharers is just a single number, not 2, not 5. And yes, we'll probably need a better definition and classification than "filesharers". The effects of filesharing are negative for artists (certainly for pop artists), and especially for the "music industry". There can be little doubt about that. How much damage is done, is anyone's guess. But by criticizing their observations, AND listening to them criticize our observations, we can hope to get closer to the real truth.

        • Re:Story meaning? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Volante3192 (953645) on Friday September 04, 2009 @07:54PM (#29319111)

          And since they are right that the number turned out to be bigger in other studies, slightly. It seems a reasonable adaptation. It's easy to say it's unreasonable, of course. But they are absolutely correct that the number is most likely smaller. So how much should they adjust it ? Like I said, it seems a reasonable adjustment. Not absurdly high, not absurdly low.

          Here's where I find a major problem. You do not fudge your data. Period. These other studies may show higher numbers, but do we have proof they weren't fudged as well?

          There's too many stories about companies performing pharmecutical trials and then throwing the data away because it didn't present a positive light.

          If you're going to adjust numbers, you better have a damn sound reasoning for it rather than "we have a hunch people lied, so..."

        • Re:Story meaning? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by hot soldering iron (800102) on Friday September 04, 2009 @09:44PM (#29319951)

          If they're going to "adjust" the numbers, why did they even bother doing the research at all? Why not just come out and say,"We didn't like what the numbers said, so we threw them away and we're making a WAG with some bullshit we're pulling out of our ass." I understand that they're a research (read "marketing") company, and so are constitutionally incapable of telling the plain truth because they could burst into flames, but it would be a new experience. And fun to watch!

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by MeNeXT (200840)

          He was correct, by the way. He went on to rant that anything that uses large amounts of people (by which he meant more than at most a few dozen) was not proper statistics.

          10 people could in no way make any reasonable assumption of any population. He was wrong. First and foremost 10 randomly selected people of any population would not represent any complete demographics of any nation. Rich, poor, middle class, professional, artist, unemployed, computer literate, music fan, and student does not come close to

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by vikstar (615372)

        Every politician should undergo a statistics examination as a prerequisite.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Narpak (961733)

        1. the same size is small.. probably too small to make the claims they did.

        Agreed. I would say that for a better and more precise statistic one would have to take samples of say 15.000 people (or more) and to take several samples from varied parts of the UK. 1,176 people from a population of of about 61 million spread across varied geographical, economical, political, social, cultural and religious demographics seems far far far too small to make any sort of estimation one way or another.

      • Scoundrel Statistics (Score:5, Informative)

        by anyaristow (1448609) on Friday September 04, 2009 @09:37PM (#29319913)

        Even a first year stats student can see it.

        This is almost as cliche in arguments of statistics as the car analogy is on slashdot, and it's the sign of a scoundrel. If you actually had a first year stat student's understanding of stats you'd know where the weaknesses actually are, and where all the rest of the smoke blown in this discussion goes laghably wrong.

        So let's apply some first year stats to the issue.

        First, the sample size. Whether it is numerically large enough to be useful is a matter not only of it's size but also the number of positive results. IOW, a sample size of 1176 is too small if you found 3 of what you're looking for, but if you found 136 (11.6% of 1176), you have plenty of samples. The question is then only whether you had a representative sample.

        My next concern would be precision. Using data with three or four significant digits (136, 1176) to make conclusions to seven significant digits (11.56463%) is silly, but that doesn't seem to have happened here. The only number in all of this that is fishy is the 16.3% number. To get three significant digits they'd have to know the number of lying households to that precision. If they had another study that determined this number they might very well have a number to that precision, but I'm assuming they just guessed.

        That's still not a problem. If you guess, you run your confidence interval through your formulae (here it's a simple product) to put a range on your results. If it's a from-your-ass guess you might put a 100% failure estimate on your low end (i.e. there might be no lying households at all) to arrive at a conservative range. Here, it looks like they used an estimate of 40%. They should have (and might have; I didn't RTFA) run the un-adjusted 11.6% through the formulae to get a conservative low-end range.

        Anyway, the number they finally used was 7%. One significant digit. That doesn't imply the same precision as, say, 6.7% would. In fact, if their figure for the number of lying households really was accurate to one digit (i.e. 35-45%) then rounding their final result to one digit was the correct procedure. If it was just a guess they should have run the absolute low estimate (probably, zero lying households) through to get a range.

        So, with actual first year stat knowledge it's possible to actually state what might be wrong with the study, and not resort to "any first year stat student" hand-waving. It's clear that the most-cited criticism (the sample size) is the result of ignorance and group think, not actual knowledge of statistics.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by HiThere (15173)

          Your criticisms are largely valid, but I still think the sample size was too small. After all, they couldn't know before they did the study what percentage would answer what way ... not unless the study was rigged.

          Of course, it also depends on what the purpose is. If it were for marketing, then this might be a quite acceptable procedure. In that case a large amount of error wouldn't cause significant problems to anyone. But if it's being used to lobby for laws, then it's just that it won't cause any pro

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

            Survey sizes of around 1000 are pretty standard. If you run the survey and get 3 positives out of 1000, you say "Oh shit, sample size is too small", then run the same survey with 5,000 or 10,000 people to catch a larger number people you are targeting - i.e. we're looking to see what percentage of people practice illegal file sharing, we need to find at least a decent number of illegal file sharers so we know our survey is accurate.

            It's not a matter of knowing what you'll get before hand or rigging the stu

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by dman123 (115218)

          My next concern would be precision. Using data with three or four significant digits (136, 1176) to make conclusions to seven significant digits (11.56463%) is silly, but that doesn't seem to have happened here. The only number in all of this that is fishy is the 16.3% number. To get three significant digits they'd have to know the number of lying households to that precision. If they had another study that determined this number they might very well have a number to that precision, but I'm assuming they just guessed.

          It wasn't that precise. The original number was 17.0% and the article poster just converted it from metric percentages so Americans wouldn't get confused.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      The point isn't that they surveyed a small group of people and therefore the statistics aren't significant. If you RTFA you would see that they based the 7m number on the false statistic that 40m some people were using the internet that year when there was really only like 33.9m. They also bumped up the percentage of filesharing people based on the assumption that some people lied about whether they had programs like that or not. Really the lesson here is to read the featured articles because the slashdot
      • So basically it's not 7 million, but more like 4?

        Lies it may well be, but does it really make any difference with regard to conclusions drawn from that number (which obviously vary widely depending on which side you're on)? The order of magnitude is still the same.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Runaway1956 (1322357)

          Yes, it makes a difference. When the lobbyists stand in front of lawmakers, those lawmakers want to know the real size of the problem. If the industry's lobbyists have to say, "We think we are losing almost a million pounds each and every year to piracy", lawmakers are going to be mildly concerned. However, if they lie, and claim that they are losing BILLIONS of pounds, those lawmakers realize that the tax collectors are losing a huge sum of money.

          When you want action, you always exaggerate your losses a

        • Re:Story meaning? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by vivaelamor (1418031) on Friday September 04, 2009 @09:11PM (#29319747)

          To me, the number is meaningless in itself. The fact that government agencies have been using the number is the issue. Either they knew that the number was wrong or they didn't bother checking it. Both possibilities can point to incompetence or malice and reflect very badly on the people responsible.

          You might be happy with government by making shit up and gut feelings but for the rest of us this is a good example of why government has no respect.

      • by Goaway (82658)

        So your problem with it is that they claimed 7 million when it was actually more like 4 or 5 million?

    • Re:Story meaning? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by caffeinemessiah (918089) on Friday September 04, 2009 @07:33PM (#29318893) Journal
      Argh, where to begin?

      The summary tries to paint this study bad because it "downsides" the amount of filesharers

      I presume by "downsides" you mean "reduces"? Well the summary says "That 11.6% was adjusted upwards to 16.3% 'to reflect the assumption that fewer people admit to file sharing than actually do it.'" So they actually UPPED the number of filesharers. This is objection #1 to "good research":
      1. You do a survey to objectively measure the support of your hypothesis
      2. The survey of a tiny sample indicates that filesharers are a pretty low percentage
      3. You "adjust" this number -- otherwise known as "fudging the data" -- to better reflect your own hypothesis.

      The same tactics in any scientific endeavor would get your papers retracted, your funding canceled, some sort of disciplinary action initiated, etc.

      The second objection, and this applies to other studies too that try to make grand claims from small samples, is that it's A SMALL SAMPLE. For your survey to be representative, your sample has to be representative. It's also difficult to choose people independently at random, and without that assumption, all your basic statistics fall apart. Perhaps they went through a list of BT subscribers and pulled names at random -- but what if downloaders are overrepresented amongst BT subscribers? What if they only polled home internet users, but then used the "total number of internet users" -- which includes corporate subscribers -- to come up with their 11mil number? There are other possible, non-numerical issues too. What if the respondents confused downloading from bittorent with downloading from iTunes?

      If you want many other examples of "bad science", read Ben Goldacre's blog [badscience.net]

      • Re:Story meaning? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Atario (673917) on Friday September 04, 2009 @08:29PM (#29319397) Homepage

        it's A SMALL SAMPLE

        No, it's not.

        http://www.raosoft.com/samplesize.html [raosoft.com]

        About 60 million people in the UK, sample size of 1,176, confidence interval of 96% gives a margin of error of 2.99%. So, it's 96% likely that they got within 2.99% of the right answer (to the question of how many people admit to it).

        I hate seeing this "that's too small a sample size" objection to every single study, from people who clearly don't know enough about how sample sizes work.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by vivaelamor (1418031)

          Nice calculator, I think the GP's main point though was that there is no evidence of a properly selected sample. You would be right in saying that the sample size has very little to do with anything compared to whether the sample is biased or not.

        • by treeves (963993)

          Thank you.
          What was real strange was someone else objecting that this sample size was too *large*, and that TEN should be enough for any kind of statistical analysis.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

            No, you missed the point of that post.

            The point was that the sample size has almost no bearing on the accuracy of the survey provided it is truly representative of the overall population.

            If you can get a sample size of 10 that is representative of a population of 60,000,000 people, you'll have a pretty accurate survey. The reality is, that's not possible in most cases. You'll generally have more than 10 demographics of varying percentages of the total population, making 10 simply too small. 1000, however

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by stuartdb (1590329)

          I'm currently doing a stats paper at the moment (still basic stuff). I never thought I would actually use anything from it in the real world but meh....

          Correct me if I'm wrong, but the calculations for sample size are only correct if it is actually a true SRS (Simple Random Sample) I couldn't find a link to the actual paper in the article but I think it would be safe to assume but the sample taken would not be a true SRS. It is more likely that this would resemble a self selecting sample, if that is the cas

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

        The second objection, and this applies to other studies too that try to make grand claims from small samples, is that it's A SMALL SAMPLE. For your survey to be representative, your sample has to be representative. It's also difficult to choose people independently at random, and without that assumption, all your basic statistics fall apart. Perhaps they went through a list of BT subscribers and pulled names at random -- but what if downloaders are overrepresented amongst BT subscribers?

        You don't seem to understand the way good polling and statistics work. If you already have solid data on the demographic makeup of your population, it does not take a very large sample size at all to get accurate results. A sample size of 1000+ is more than enough to come within 3% accuracy (plus or minus) for any given study provided you already have good demographic information. To be accurate with a small sample size, you do NOT want to choose your survey takers at random, at least not completely. Sp

    • by Mikkeles (698461)

      In addition, sharing files is not in and of itself illegal.

    • From TFA;

      "The 6.7m figure was then calculated based on the estimated number of people with internet access in the UK. However, Jupiter research was working on the assumption that there were 40m people online in the UK in 2008, whereas the Government's own Office of National Statistics claimed there were only 33.9m people online during that year."

      I think this demonstrates the point better then the rest of the article. They made significant numbers up in their head to inflate their claim. This is not qu
    • this study bad because it "downsides" the amount of filesharers

      That's "downsizes"

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Runaway1956 (1322357)

      1 The 7m figure had actually been rounded up from an actual figure of 6.7m
      2 It gets worse. That 11.6% of respondents who admitted to file sharing was adjusted upwards to 16.3% "to reflect the assumption"
      3 The 6.7m figure was then calculated based on the estimated number of people with internet access in the UK.

      TFA is pretty clearly challenging those figures based on assumptions made, faulty estimates, and rounding up. The original "research" was clearly engineered to give a high number.

      Is there anything el

    • >>>e rant about examining only 1,176 people for the study - in which case the same kind of tv viewer statistics

      Yes but those TV stats are produced by carefully selecting the homes to reflect each city's ethnic makeup (at least that's true with Nielsen in the States). In contrast the 1176 people were an uncontrolled survey of people who *volunteered* to take the poll, and therefore represents... essentially nothing. It's unscientific.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by JAlexoi (1085785)
      The problem is that the government is taking numbers from a statistical research paper, that was commissioned by a biased entity.
      We all know, that statistics tend to sway towards the point of view of the paying party.
      And then we get a problem with Wikipedia Source paradox. The state takes numbers from a biased corporate study and present's them as fact, then that entity will say that "According to the government..." and present that study as official government sponsored study.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Because 1,176 people is a miniscule (0.0168 %) amount compared to 7 million, so there is room for a LARGE margin of error, in either direction. The sample size is too small for the number of people they are trying to represent.
  • there is a question that needs answering

  • I am a ''loyal'' listener[**], they take current numbers in the news and put them under the microscope. I wish they were part of the main newsrooms - it could result in some really interesting questions being put to some of the politicians who spout numbers without any justification.

    [**] You need to be a loyal listener to understand the choice of phrase.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 04, 2009 @07:19PM (#29318751)

    Whenever you estimate a statistic like that, you should also indicate the level of uncertainty surrounding the estimate. Why are they not reporting the upper and lower bounds of the confidence interval surrounding that estimate?

    • by caffeinemessiah (918089) on Friday September 04, 2009 @07:38PM (#29318951) Journal

      Whenever you estimate a statistic like that, you should also indicate the level of uncertainty surrounding the estimate. Why are they not reporting the upper and lower bounds of the confidence interval surrounding that estimate?

      Perhaps because it's hard to come up with confidence intervals when you admit to fudging your own data by bumping the estimate up by almost five percentage points.

      • by ppanon (16583)

        Well, the other thing of course is that, since the statistical estimate was ~11%+/-3%, that 5% increase results in possibly over a 50% increase in the estimated number of file sharers in their "worst case" scenario (8%). Basically these people padded the estimates at every possible step instead of carrying through the error factor. Shoddy error analysis that would probably get a bare pass (if not an outright fail) for a first year paper in any scientific discipline.

        The only possible interpretation for all t

    • by pilgrim23 (716938)
      Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics... -Mark Twain
  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Friday September 04, 2009 @07:19PM (#29318757)

    They think that a single copy of a song is worth over a hundred thousand dollars too. They claim to lose more in revenue each month than the GDP of most countries. All because of those dyyyeaaarrrn pirates. Enron looks positively boring in comparison to the accounting techniques the recording industry uses. None of this is news. About the only people that buy this crap are judges and legislators -- the rest of us are almost universally of the mindset that a bag of potato chips has more value than most of the recording industry's portfolio.

  • by Trevin (570491) on Friday September 04, 2009 @07:21PM (#29318779) Homepage

    Using file-sharing software does not equate to sharing files illegally. I admit to using BitTorrent to download Fedora ISO's, and there's nothing illegal about that.

    • by Blakey Rat (99501) on Friday September 04, 2009 @09:02PM (#29319681)

      I asked the British government, but unfortunately they told me you don't actually exist. Sorry.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by 4D6963 (933028)

      Yeah, sure, because I'm sure there's SOOOO many people who use BitTorrent only to download free linux ISOs and never ever download movies, series, porn, games, books, music.

      Translation : the number of people who only do that are insignificant. It would be dishonest or delusional to disagree.

  • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@hacki s h . o rg> on Friday September 04, 2009 @07:21PM (#29318781)

    Some of the estimation steps might be sketchy, but the basic practice of estimating a population proportion from a sample of that population is not particularly questionable. That's how almost all studies of populations work, because taking censuses of all people in a country is rarely feasible. We have century-old statistical theory on how to put bounds on the sampling error, too, assuming the sample was indeed random.

    You could have a whole slew of these stories if you really objected to that basic methodology, e.g. nearly every estimate of N million people suffering from a disease or disorder is based on a sample.

    • by Abcd1234 (188840)

      Indeed. In fact, the 1,000 person sample size is a well-established sweet spot for statistical sampling of a population. Of course, in addition to the munging they did to the final results (rounding up to account for self-reporting errors), there may be issues with how the sample was taken (ie, was it truly a random sample of net-connected households). But on the face of it, I agree, I see very little wrong with their methodology.

    • by Abreu (173023) on Friday September 04, 2009 @07:39PM (#29318961)

      Is it ok to change "11.6%" to "16.3%" based on a "hunch"?

      I'm not a statistician, this is an honest question

      • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@hacki s h . o rg> on Friday September 04, 2009 @07:41PM (#29318979)

        If there was some previous result that only 2/3 of filesharers admit it when asked, then an upwards revision by 1/3 in an estimate would be defensible. A "hunch" is not quite as good evidence. of course.

        I was objecting mainly to the "how 136 people became 7 million" title, which to my ears reads mainly as a criticism of the sample size. But whatever the problems with this estimate, the sample size wasn't really among them.

      • by caffeinemessiah (918089) on Friday September 04, 2009 @07:42PM (#29318997) Journal

        Is it ok to change "11.6%" to "16.3%" based on a "hunch"? I'm not a statistician, this is an honest question

        IAAS, and the answer is no. That goes for the GP as well -- no one is contesting estimation theory, just that the fundamental assumptions are so grossly unmet in this "study" as to render it meaningless. And as someone else already commented, it's dangerous here because it's going to dictate public policy.

        If you're going to "adjust" your objective findings, based on some bizarre assumption that a certain percentage of people will lie about file sharing, then why do a survey at all if not to create mathematical/sciency-sounding smoke and mirrors?

        • by Atario (673917)

          some bizarre assumption that a certain percentage of people will lie about file sharing

          So it's your contention that no one would lie when asked if they file-share? Really?

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by DarkOx (621550)

            Not but you need some basis if you are going to make such an adjustment. There are ways to determine the rate of sampling error for instance and then use that. In this case that might be to much effort or get you into legally murky waters so what an honest researcher would write something like this:

            In my sample of XXXX, YY responded that they sometimes used p2p software in an illegal fashion. Based on this the number of extra legal file sharers in the total population would be ZZZZZZ. I would not expect

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by mdwh2 (535323)

        I would hope it's no.

        There's actually a clever way to try to account for this kind of thing - you ask them something like "Do you file-share, or is your birthday in January" (or perhaps something even more obscure that the questioner/Government wouldn't know). The point is that people are more willing to admit to it, because people can't know for sure if they really do file-share, or if they answered yes because of the second question.

        But when it comes to the population as a whole, because you can estimate

      • is assuming file sharing == illegal file sharing. As others have pointed out, that alone makes the rest of the conclusions meaningless. My stat class said sample size should aim to be around sqrt of population. Of course, smaller samples just lower the confidence intervals. The 1000 people (sqrt(10^6)) is at least in the ball park for a population of 30 million.

  • "If they facts don't fit the theory, change the facts."
    ~Albert Einstein
  • In the 70's Shirly Williams destroyed the British educational system based on political bias, almost everything she did was wrong and did not work. 30+ years later, most of the Civil Service does not understand statistics or any numerate discipline, these idiots now advise the pols!

    This stuff does not have ANY substance and certainly dosn't deserve the description Research. It is ignorant crap.

    Why are we surprised that nothing that New, or Old Labor does works?
    • To modern Government, statistics are a tool that is used to define reality, rather than understand it.

      You're more likely to agree with something if you think 90% of the population are backing it. This is the purpose of opinion polls and focus groups; not to find out what people think, but to find out how they can be told what to think.

      The decisions come first. Then, the statistics follow to show that the decisions were right. It is cunningly manipulative. Even those familiar with the old "damn lies and stat

  • mathematics (Score:5, Funny)

    by martas (1439879) on Friday September 04, 2009 @07:33PM (#29318879)
    maybe the authors of the study were taught math skills through unschooling?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 04, 2009 @07:33PM (#29318881)

    using file sharing software does not mean you pirate software or media.....

  • by Animaether (411575) on Friday September 04, 2009 @07:36PM (#29318917) Journal

    136 out of 1176 people in households with internet connections admitted to having used file-sharing software (source: the summary)
    18.3 million households in the UK had internet access at time of polling in 2009 (source: http://www.statistics.gov.uk/CCI/nugget.asp?ID=8 [statistics.gov.uk] )

    136/1176 * 18.3M ~= 2.12M

    Not sure if "having used file-sharing software" means that they downloaded / distributed at least 1 item - say, a song - via said software and that they had no actual rights to do so (you know, as most people use file-sharing software to distribute Linux distros, or have simply 'used it' but didn't actually download or upload anything... *cough*)...

    But let's presume it does.

    Then let's take the low price in iTunes UK of GBP 0.79 per song, then the music industry 'lost' ('cos obviously people had no intention of buying that song that they didn't download / distribute because they were downloading a Linux distro instead *cough*) about GBP 1,671,897.96.

    Well, that's peanuts, innit.

    • by DragonTHC (208439)

      right, then how did they adjust dishonesty?

      They just adjusted from 11.3% to 16.3%

      Where did they get this 5% of people lie on surveys figure?

      so then, if you take 16.3% and plug it in...

      192/1176 * 18.3M ~=3M

      that's still far less than 7 million people. The ath don't madd up! ;p

  • TTWTF here is that someone believes there are only 7 million file sharers in the UK. sure that figure is bullshit, but the number should be a hell of a lot higher not lower.
  • Why the BBC rocks (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MosesJones (55544) on Friday September 04, 2009 @07:51PM (#29319081) Homepage

    This is yet another example as to why the BBC is the finest broadcasting and journalistic organisation on the planet (I've never worked for them, sold to them or have any other financial connection other than the license fee).

    They actually investigated something created by an industry group and found it to be bollocks and then reported it. The BBC are arguably the most "socialist" organisation in the democratic world (funded by a tax on everyone for the benefit of everyone) and yet they still question and challenge everything.

    The US seriously needs something that questions vested interests and rubbish statistics as much as the BBC. Jon Stewart and Bill Maher are just comedians and FoxNews is just comedy.

    Given a choice between the first amendment and the BBC, I'll take the BBC; its demonstrated more freedom of speech in a week than the US media has in a decade.

    • by vivaelamor (1418031) on Friday September 04, 2009 @08:30PM (#29319401)

      Oh come on, the BBC have reported this number many times since it was first used and you sing their praises because Radio 4 happens to do a show devoted to statistics? I wonder just how much time they will devote to debunking this statistic considering how many times they have quoted it.

      Just because the BBC is better than the US networks doesn't mean we should be proud, personally I'm appalled at how low the bar is set.

    • by Atario (673917)

      funded by a tax on everyone for the benefit of everyone

      Is this, strictly speaking, true? I thought you had to pay a yearly television license fee based on the number of TVs you own. No TV, no fee. (Which creates problems of its own, including the necessity of sending around TV detector vans to make sure no one's hiding an unlicensed TV. I'm thinking it would in fact be better if it were a simple universal fee and be done with it...)

      Oh, and agreed about the Beeb rockin'.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by FourthAge (1377519)

        You can also avoid paying the licence fee if your TV can't receive over-the-air pictures, e.g. if it is disconnected from the aerial.

        There was once a "radio licence", you can still see a reference to it in one episode of Monty Python, but this was phased out when almost nobody owned a radio but not a TV.

        In the future, I expect the TV licence will be extended to include Internet connections as well, since those can now be used to receive BBC programmes too. At that point, we will see if the BBC can continue

      • Re:Why the BBC rocks (Score:4, Informative)

        by _Shad0w_ (127912) on Friday September 04, 2009 @09:55PM (#29320011)

        You only need one license, you can have as many tellies as you like. Portable tellies used in caravans and the like will be covered by the license for your home as well.

        If you have two houses, you will need two licenses though, afaicr - which is why students away at Uni need to buy a license - including if they're in halls - even though their permanent residence might still be their parent's house.

        I find the BBC great value and love it dearly. I suspect people will say that's because I'm white, middle class and liberal or something.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by houghi (78078)

      The BBC are arguably the most "socialist" organisation in the democratic world [...] and yet they still question and challenge everything.

      What does their political thinking have to do with whether they challenge anything or not? I would call many unions more socialist then the BBC. And they do challenge everything all the time as well (Rightfully or not is another discussion).

      I think you confused "socialist" with "socially engaged" which is not the same thing.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by evilviper (135110)

      This is yet another example as to why the BBC is the finest broadcasting and journalistic organisation on the planet

      "The grass is always greener" as the saying goes, so I'd naturally love to believe that. But sadly, I can't, because I have extensive experience watching, listening, and reading the BBC.

      The BBC's news reports are almost always moderately-shallow fluff, VERY light on facts relative to their US counterparts, and rarely researched more than summarily, and constantly providing unconfirmed 3rd par

  • Winston Churchill (Score:2, Interesting)

    by feufeu (1109929)
    O "Statistics are like a drunk with a lampost: used more for support than illumination."
    O "The only statistics you can trust are those you falsified yourself."
    Tick one.
  • Can I hire these guys to make me money? Seriously, I've never seen number fudging like this.

  • This survey "saved or created" seven million file sharers.
  • Figures lie... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hyades1 (1149581) <hyades1@hotmail.com> on Saturday September 05, 2009 @01:24AM (#29321029)

    And liars figure.

    The best way to shut these slime-oids up would be to conduct a forensic audit of their royalty payments to artists. I bet not one of the companies would come out clean.

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