Several major British Newspapers, and many online news sites have been carrying a story about Rio Ferdinand coming bottom of a ‘study’ of the language use of footballers on Twitter.
The Mirror carried the story, boldly claiming that “RIO Ferdinand has the least sophisticated vocabulary of all footballers on Twitter”, without giving any indication of the source of the study. The Metro, perhaps sensing that it wasn’t much of a story chose to up the ante by covering Ferdinand’s response to the ‘shock’ news. The Mail refers to the ‘analysis’ and ‘research’, claiming (or admitting?) that it is ‘semi-scientific’ (whatever that means), and tells us that “The Google search engine tool, which divides language used on web addresses into three categories of ‘basic’, ‘intermediate’ and ‘advanced’ categories, was used by clickliverpool.com to scan the pages of UK’s most followed Premier League players.” Oddly, the clickliverpool.com website makes no claim to harbour the mastermind behind this groundbreaking study, and their article is dated the day after the Mail piece.
Webpronews.com carried the only illumination I have seen on the research methodology used to generate the ‘findings’ that were reported across the globe. It appears to have used a technique considerably less valid than almost every example of A-level English Language investigation I have been moderating over the past few weeks.
Nevertheless, there is a potentially useful lesson for A-level students who are just now beginning to look at the ENGB4 ‘Investigating Language’ unit. With a bit more effort than whoever concocted this non-story was prepared to put in, you could easily use tools like the Google reading level search filter and other corpus analysis tools to generate truly meaningful data that could be used as part of your language investigation coursework.