A new, methodically shabby survey would have you believe that Wall Streeters need tighter ethical policing. Photographer: Ramin Talaie/Bloomberg

Worthless Survey Smears Wall Street Ethics

a | A

Labaton Sucharow LLP, a law firm that has a practice representing whistle-blowers before the Securities and Exchange Commission, released the results of an online survey today about ethics and wrongdoing on Wall Street. Surprise: The findings made Wall Street look bad.

You can look up the results and executive summary here if you like, but it's not worth your time. The methodology is so lacking, the numbers aren't worth repeating. This was, by all indications, a low-budget effort designed to get media attention (which it got from the New York Times, among others) and drum up business. Here's the extent of what the law firm said about how the survey was conducted:

This report presents the findings of a survey conducted online in the U.S. among a sample of 250 respondents age 18 or older who work in the financial services industry. Specifically, these respondents were employed as traders, portfolio managers, investment bankers, hedge fund professionals, financial analysts, investment advisors, asset managers and stock brokers. This survey was conducted June 18-27, 2013.

There was no representation in the methodology description that this was a sample drawn by random. There was no mention of how the respondents were selected, or whether they volunteered to participate, which could indicate bias. The methodology doesn't indicate whether all 250 people answered all of the questions, or if that was just the total number of respondents.

"You really don't know how representative these 250 respondents are of all the people who work in the financial-services industry without knowing exactly how they were invited to take part in the survey," said Joe Lenski, executive vice president of Edison Research, a polling and media-research firm in Somerville, New Jersey.

The survey was conducted by ORC International, which also does polling for CNN. Look at the bottom of any news release about a CNN poll by ORC, and you will see a paragraph like this one last month that showed 83 percent of Americans disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job:

The poll was conducted for CNN by ORC International June 11-13, with 1,014 adults nationwide questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points.

The results released by Labaton Sucharow didn't say anything about the survey's margin of error, which tells us it probably was sky high. Plus, 250 is a small sample from which to draw any conclusions about anything.

The headline on Labaton Sucharow's news release said: "Wall Street Professional Survey Reveals Widespread Misconduct, Acceptance of Illegal Activities, and Disregard of Client Interests." Surely these things go on all the time. However, the law firm's PR machine gave us no reason to believe the results are statistically meaningful. Move along, dear readers.

(Jonathan Weil is Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)