# Australian Bureau of Statistics

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 Understanding statistics

Module 2: Describing, Clarifying and Presenting Data

2. Characteristic, Variable and Measurement > 2.1. The relationship between characteristic and variable

2.1.2. Making sure variables are valid

Are variables always valid? Let’s consider an example of a study conducted by a group of students.

 Scenario A group of students wanted to measure the honesty of university students. They decided to leave \$50 on one of the walkways within the grounds of the university and monitor what students did when they saw the \$50 note. The group described students who do not immediately hand the money in to the security office as dishonest.

As you think about this study you need to ask questions related to the source of the data (which is dependent on the definition of the variable) such as:

• Is it possible to measure honesty/dishonesty in such a simplistic way?
• Is honesty linked to time? - perhaps some students (after a struggle of conscience) handed it in later – aren’t they also ‘honest’?
• Why did this group want to measure this characteristic in the first place? Did they have some sort of hidden agenda?

You might also ask questions related to the purpose of the data such as: what purpose is being served by measuring this characteristic of university students?