Several days ago, AJ blogger Greg Sandow weighed in (here) on the recent Chorus America study, which purported to show that people who sing in choruses are better citizens than
those who don’t sing in a group (nothing about singing in the shower…). To recap, here was the main point, taken from the press release:
An estimated 32.5 million adults regularly sing in choruses today, up from 23.5 million estimated in 2003….That’s good news because singing in one of the 270,000 choruses in the U.S., such as a community chorus or a school or church choir, is strongly correlated with qualities that are associated with success throughout life…Greater civic involvement, discipline, and teamwork are just a few of the attributes fostered by singing with a choral ensemble.
Greg, rightly, picked the piece apart — which made me glad, because I was almost suckered into writing an article on the study. Then I actually read it, and realized that I’d pretty much been wasting my time.
If only Chorus America were the only offender on this score (and btw I am not suggesting any maliciousness on its part). Unfortunately it’s hardly alone among arts organizations. I’ve already written here about the useless statistics collected by the Association of Art Museum Directors, imploring them to collect better information. (They told me they’re working on it…then said nothing was decided on the subject.)
Another example occurred in opera recently — though it was not the fault of opera companies. Rather, an Italian medical professor published a study in Circulation: The Journal of the American Heart Association supposedly showing that listening to dramatic music, like opera, influenced the human cardiovascular system predictably and therefore had application in the treatment of heart disease and stroke.
Sounded great for opera, didn’t it?
But when I called the AHA, asking to speak with other researchers about the study, the whole thing fell apart. The recommended doctor, a board member, ripped into the study’s design and conclusions. What he said made perfect sense. (Makes one wonder, then, why the editors published it…) Let’s hope no opera company started using the study to attract audiences.
Arts groups look silly when they publish flawed studies and funny numbers.
It’s axiomatic that good data is necessary to make the right assessments and to frame questions properly — and that if questions are not framed properly, the answers are likely to be wrong, too. So, yet again — I know arts groups have many things on their agendas nowadays, but — we need better arts studies and statistics. They don’t have to drive the answers; they just have to inform them.
Funders, by the way, want them too.