Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

October 22, 2009

how to lie with statistics

A couple of months ago, the guys over at Socialnomics were talking about a TV campaign developed by an airplane manufacturer in the States, and pointed out that TV might not have been the best medium for this, given the very few people involved in purchasing airplanes. It came up again in conversation recently, and it got me thinking about what might have driven this choice, and the way we use numbers when doing our jobs.

Statistics play a huge role for us, but they can be misleading, particularly when people aren’t used to interpreting them (I’m reminded of this every time I hear a news headline saying ‘prices have fallen this quarter; the rate of inflation has dropped by 2%’).

Saying, for example, that “If you go on TV, ‘100% of your audience will see this ad” is all well and good, but what if your audience is 5 people? Suddenly a TV ad doesn’t seem the right way to go. If you really want them to see your 30” spot, go into their office with a projector – it’s cheaper, it adds a personal touch, and it allows for two- way communication to boot. If readership of a newspaper doubles in a year, that could simply mean that now eight people are reading it, instead of four. That’s not a success story.

Statistics mean nothing without context; every time we take in a statistic, we have to ask ourselves: Where did it come from? Who generated it? Are they independent or are there vested interests? What question did they ask and of whom did they ask it? How big was the sample? There are some statistics we believe without question, but there are plenty we shouldn’t.

Claire

 

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4 Responses to “Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics”

  1. equalman said

    Great post Claire – I think sometimes decisions are made based on what is the easiest thing to do.

    Cheers, Erik Qualman
    Socialnomics

  2. theinfluentials said

    Great post Claire – and I agree with you. I think statistics are great as a guiding point but common sense and thinking need to be applied to every arguement to support the stats.

    Vanessa

  3. theinfluentials said

    Brilliant post. I’m reminded of JNLR/JNRS/JNIR days when I need to hide away with headphones in order to write my reports objectively!

  4. […] whole picture and that by providing context, we can make the data more true. This is an issue close to our heart at theinfluentials, and so we thought this talk was worth […]

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