Prince William is not the world's sexiest bald man – but the 'study' that says he is raises a vital issue

Ťhere are lies, there are damned lies, and then there’s a viral statistic claiming Prince William is the sexiest bald man in the world. Over the past few days the internet has been losing its head over a headline-grabbing “study” claiming the hairless heir is more attractive than Stanley Tucci and Vin Diesel. Who on earth could be behind that startling conclusion?

The answer is not, as some people wondered, Buckingham Palace’s PR department. Rather, the study was run by a medical tourism facilitator that connects UK patients with hair transplant surgeons in Turkey. Creating dubious surveys designed to generate headline-friendly results that get your company’s name in the news is a bog-standard PR technique. (I have shamelessly been attempting to coin the term “advertistics” to describe the practice, but, alas, it hasn’t stuck.) Pretty much every year there is a viral story based on a “study” that turns out to be complete nonsense. You might remember, 例如, when a number of reputable newspapers claimed that 7% of US adults think chocolate milk comes from brown cows. This was very much a case of fake moos. The survey, commissioned by the US National Dairy Council, was worded so nobody would be able to answer the question “where does chocolate milk come from” accurately.

Manipulating survey questions so they generate the result you want is something of a dark art. It may be morally suspect, but I can respect the craft behind it. So I’m disappointed to report that the hair transplant people didn’t put the slightest bit of effort into making their study seem credible. It seems someone just Googled “sexy” next to a bald man’s name and looked at how many results came up. If you Google my name next to “billionaire genius”, 22,100 results come up; that doesn’t mean I’m a billionaire. Anyway, despite the obvious flaws in the methodology, the Sun picked up the story and a number of other outlets followed suit.

当然, while this particular study was obviously nonsense, it was harmless nonsense. The real issue here isn’t Prince William’s head, but how easy it is to disseminate junk science in the media. Of the bald men I surveyed, 92% agree.