I’ve previously discussed the fact that the general public doesn’t typically use the same standards as researchers to arrive at their conclusions. In that post, I explained, “I’ve heard sociologists use the disclaimer that their personal experiences are based on an “N of one,” meaning that they are drawing conclusions from a sample of one.” Now, journalists are disregarding the age-old “Three is a trend” rule of thumb (that I couldn’t find the origin of during a 30-second Google search) and getting in on the action. Let’s take a look at the results:
On one side we have a report originally posted at Business Insider (which may not be the best source) and reposted at Slate highlighting the experiences of John Greenough, a Business Insider research analyst who purchased a “Never Ending Pasta Pass” from Olive Garden (not to be confused with Applebee’s Endless Appetizers) that ends on November 9 (I guess that Olive Garden and I disagree on the meaning of “never”). Hayley Peterson, the article’s author, writes:
We asked him about what it was like having access to free Olive Garden every day for the past seven weeks. At the beginning of the promotion, Greenough said he had planned to take full advantage of the pass and go to Olive Garden every day. But the salty pasta has gotten the best of him.
“I ate there, I think, 20 of the first 25 days, but stopped for a week because I started to get horrible canker sores from all the salt in the pasta,” he said. (According to the Mayo Clinic, the exact cause of canker sores is unclear, although triggers can include highly acidic certain foods like tomato sauce.) “Since then, I’ve gone sparingly because I felt really unhealthy from the pasta*,” Greenough said.
Greenough continues to complain about the slow take-out service and concludes that he will not return to the restaurant after his “Never Ending” pass ends, despite the money that he saved. Greenough’s feelings pervade the article, which is titled “This is What Happens When You Eat Olive Garden for 7 Weeks Straight,” and reports that “Olive Garden sold only 1,000 passes.”
Reading that Olive Garden only sold 1,000 passes in the context of Greenough’s experiences led me to believe that Olive Garden’s food is so bad that they couldn’t find more than 1,000 suckers to pay $100 for two months of eating it. Then, however, I read this article at the Huffington Post about an “American Hero” who has eaten at Olive Garden 95 times in six weeks. In it, Leigh Weingus shares the story of Alan Martin, who “was one of the lucky 1,000 people to score” a Never Ending Pasta Pass, which sold out in two hours. So the rarity of the passes was apparently one of supply, not of demand.
The differences don’t end at the framing of the articles, however. Martin is quoted as saying, “I can’t believe I get to eat like this every day… This is great.” Not only does he appear to love the food, but he also doesn’t complain about the service. Weingus fails to inform readers about any canker sores that have appeared in Martin’s mouth, so he must not have any since no serious journalist writing about somebody eating at Olive Garden would omit a key piece of information like that. The differences between the two stories are so apparent that it is almost as if each journalist talked to a separate individual and used that individual’s experience with the promotion to write their article, leading to dramatically different conclusions!
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