Last week the Evening Standard in London reported on a recent study showing that Facebook ‘Addiction’ costs businesses £132m each day - or £30.8 billion every year. Apologies for not providing a link but the article is behind what appears to be a toll gate.

As always, articles such as these hide bad science behind important and professional looking words: major study and researchers. In fact, it is more likely that the researcher undertook a major study by asking a few friends how much time they spent on facebook, took an average and multiplied it by the average wage and then multiplied by a scaling factor to make the result look more impressive. This is the latest in a long line of reports designed to produce publicity for the producers of the report and always result in scare headlines of the sort: “Thing that we like doing costs businesses a large amount of money every day”. You will have seen several on the costs of smoking to businesses, for example.

There are many flaws to this type of “analysis” although to say that the “analysis” is flawed is to grant it some sort of correctness to its general premise. As I asked a friend once: what is the difference between a number of cracks in a wall and a house fallen down, isn’t that just a number of very wide cracks?

I’ll pick one. The assumption in all these reports is that a firm accrues value from its employees continuously down to the second. So, for example, for every second an employee is working the firm accrues a discrete piece of value. This is probably only really true for a worker on a production line and, to be honest, if they are on a production line it might difficult to log onto Facebook. In most other work the correlation between seconds and value is lumpy. Value is accrued when some sort of event occurs - this, I think, is especially true in information based industries. Moreover, the progress toward this event is often lumpy in and of itself - every second spent does not accrue prospective and future value in the event: many seconds are “wasted”. (In fact they are not “wasted” they can be viewed as an investment in future productivity (smoking for example)).

This is all, of course, not to argue that spending all day on Facebook is a good thing for a business (or indeed for a person). Similarly smoking or going to the toilet. Rather just to express an irritation at poorly formed analysis that form bandwagons that roll right over the good as well as the bad.