Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Problem I Have With Statistics

I used to joke that 87.35% of all statistics were made up on the spot.  The truth is that it is more like 72.91% and yes, I just made that one up too.
Recently I transitioned to a new role with a new company in a new city. I could say that 100% of my life is new but that is not 100% accurate. I have the same two children, I drive the same car and I use the same brand of deodorant. What I am saying here is that a statistic is just a number, and that a number needs to have context to have meaning.
Every day we are all inundated with a statistic about something. Political polls, television ratings, the percentage growth of a company and the demographics of facebook users. What do all of these numbers mean and how are we supposed to make sense of them? It all depends on your point of view.
If a political leader’s approval rating goes from 33% to 36% the data gets “spun” by supporters that the approval rating increased 9% and detractors say 64% disapprove of their opponent. Both are right but the messaging around them is in contrast.
When a company is young and it grows revenue by 200% (or more) this sounds like an excellent investment opportunity – is it? More data is required and I hope we all realize more questions need to be asked in this situation.
What about all of the statistics flying around about the world of social media? Facebook has 500 million users and the fastest growing demographic is 55-65 year olds. Really? How many were there last year and how many are there now? If there was only one million in this group a year ago and now there are nine million it is still less than 2% of the total user group. It is an 800% increase, which is a fantastic growth number but it does not tell the entire story. Since I like to make up stats these are fabricated for illustration purposes – I am sure there are more than nine million users globally in this demographic.
This is my first blog post so as soon as someone reads it my readership has increased infinitely, nothing like setting the bar high!


  1. Well I will do my best to keep your numbers climbing - though by posting the first comment - any increases beyond mine will be miniscule in comparison - though the next one will indicate a confirmed doubling in your readers...

  2. Good job on post #1....
    Now you can claim that 50% of comments are posted by:
    -bald men
    -men over 40
    -gay men
    -Lebanese Canadians
    All the best buddy!