A few days ago, an Associated Press article in my inbox “Young People Not So 'Green' After All” caught my eye. I’ve spent years working with young people and that conclusion does not reflect my experience. What’s more, this is not a sentiment that one generally hears when it comes to the millennial generation. In fact, we’re generally fairly active when it comes to issues concerning the environment. Organizations such as 350.org and the Energy Action Coalition are brimming with Gen Y energy. Events such as Power Shift bring thousands of people, many of the younger generation, together.
While the Associated Press article was getting traction at Grist and on the Washington Post, I spent some time learning about the study through an interesting e-mail thread and additional articles. “Generational Differences in Young Adult’s Life Goals, Concern for Others and Civic Orientation” was recently published by Twenge et.all from San Diego State University. There are a few concerning flaws in the study which Mike and Morley carefully and systematically highlight in their recent post.
The authors began with two reputable sets of longitudal data as a baseline. The additions consisted of survey results from 182 freshmen in a psychology class who answered questions both from the original data sets and also ones covering issues the authors wished to examine or "study." The responses to these specific questions pertain to this non-random group of students with a far more tenuous connection to the views and attitudes reflected in the other study’s long term reliable data.
Beyond my immediate concern over parts of the methodology, some of which is scientifically sound, I found it troubling and a bit predictable that the AP ran with the story. Yes, I am aware that the news world is fast moving and that fact checking in such detail is cumbersome. Additionally, there will always be individuals with specific views that seek to find data to justify their positions. Those realities are inescapable, so I’m exceedingly grateful that there are others out there who read the article’s headline and did the same double take that I did a few days ago. However, my major media takeaway is that the millennial generation must continue to speak up in an effort to define our own narrative.
Mainstream news stories, like this one, reinforce a pre-existing negative view of the younger generation. There are enough criticisms to go around without questionable studies and reporting adding to the picture. And whether these judgments serve any constructive purpose in the long-term is yet another question for further discussion. If we are continually on the defensive, we look as though we are not listening to critiques. But, it becomes harder to make a compelling case for our generation as negative reporting accumulates. No matter the truth, it is difficult to erase the printed word, electronic or otherwise. That is why we must remain cognizant of stories that concern millennials and debuke the ones with questionable merit.
Young people are team players, forward thinking leaders, and active citizens. Generalizations can be very effective when it comes to selling media coverage, but who controls the narrative? Ultimately, who really benefits from perpetuating negative perceptions? Generational warfare is counter-productive when it comes to producing sustainable outcomes and public policy. As the younger generation, we can and should exercise our voice when framing the debate and conversation around our values and priorities and push for a constructive narrative. But more importantly, as citizens, we should not have to tolerate faulty research being reported as news – conclusions based on false premises are false.
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