They're serious aren't they, surveys? The British Antarctic Survey, the Ordnance Survey, the British Crime Survey, the GP Patient Survey. Surveys, through questions and statistics and science, tell us important and insightful things about our society and the way we live.

And then you have the latest survey from Sheilas' Wheels, the car insurance company, which tells us that 29 per cent of men admitted to being distracted by "women's summer attire" when behind the wheel of a car.

I can't help but think this isn't the best use of a survey. It's more of a transparent attempt to garner column inches. And the British press duly complied - the story was covered straight-faced in the Telegraph and the Daily Mail, which beautifully weaved in Jeremy Clarkson's comments - "You can't physically not look!" - on the same subject.

Sheilas' Wheels's press release offers other delightful facts: only 3 per cent of women admit to being distracted by men's choice of summer clothing; "men are more visually orientated" (says the behavioural psychologist); oh, and "testosterone also plays a part". I think my favourite bit is the comment from the Sheilas' Wheels spokesperson: "We urge all motorists to keep their eyes on the road - regardless of outside distractions - and keep cool behind the wheel."

Why do these sorts of things make me despair? Is it the utter pointlessness of the exercise? Partly. But it's also the purpose behind the pointlessness - the meeting that probably took place where a team of people dreamed up the whole survey idea. "If it's about scantily clad ladies, we'll definitely get in the tabloids." It is a depressing thought.

But to return to the meat of the survey, I'm not sure 29 per cent of people doing anything is particularly interesting. It's just not that many. What happened to a nine-out-of-ten-cats template? Perhaps the Sheilas' Wheels marketing folk were right. The only reason their blessed survey made it into the papers is that it allowed a panting picture editor to ogle photos of girls in bikinis.

Surveys, I'm telling you, were meant for greater things.

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 09 August 2010 issue of the New Statesman, The first 100 days