The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


The Sort Of Post That Will Make John Dodds Immensely Happy …
April 8, 2013, 6:11 am
Filed under: Comment

Have you ever heard the term, ‘Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics’?

Well, if you have but never quite understood why, this story might explain it …

A few months ago an eminent Swedish Professor was on TV talking about statistics.

In the interview, he casually pointed out that in Sweden, the average number of legs was 1.99 recurring.

When the host of the show looked at him curiously, the Professor explained that it was because some people in Sweden had only one leg while others had none before adding – with a straight face but admittedly, a twinkle in the eye – that because of this, the majority of the Swedish population had an above average number of legs.

Utterly truthful and yet completely ridiculous.

Pedantic, twisted genius.

[Told you you’d like it Doddsy]


48 Comments so far
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I don’t know whether John will approve but I certainly do. This is a great story to highlight the inherent danger of decision making by statistics. What a shame this wasn’t around back in the early 90’s when I was working with the Department of Trade & Industry. Never have I met such a bunch of statistic groupies and addicts.

Comment by George

Forget that George, why wasn’t this around when my end of year report told my mum and dad I was in the bottom 25% at school.

Comment by DH

Yes, I agree with you Dave – especially when I once got 2% in my maths exam, which was even lower than Andrew Cooney which was previously thought impossible.

Comment by Rob

Welcome back Robert. I trust you will be here for the whole week this week?

Comment by George

Unless Rob gets those north korea fuckers to launch an attack so he can be told to stay indoors. I wouldn’t put it past him.

Comment by Billy Whizz

You can relax George, there’s 3 weeks till the next one … and no, I’m not joking.

Comment by Rob

Not as happy as those that appear during your many holidays.

That said, you’re writing about a phrase I despise because it reveals that the quoter of it usually doesn’t understand it , certainly doesn’t understand numbers and, worst of all, can’t be bothered to rectify that situation.

Inaccurate statistics can be used to perpetrate lies, accuaret but statistically insignificant numbers can be used to bolster dubious arguments (as beauty adverts so often do) but the problem is not with statistics, it’s with the innumeracy of the majority of both customers and executives.

Comment by John

Are you insulting Rob, the tv host or the swedish prof that said it. Or everyone?

Comment by Billy Whizz

None of the above.

Comment by John

Missed opportunity then.

Comment by Billy Whizz

But I did it just for you John …

Comment by Rob

Statistics don’t lie, but liars use statistics

Comment by northern

Look at you being Mr Quotable.

[Of course, I’ll be stealing it]

Comment by Rob

And, as George suggests, people who measure the wrong things or cherry-pick numbers that can be used to support their point of view.

Comment by John

Like agencies do to “prove” their idea is the right idea.

Comment by DH

Which is why I have to accept Rob is good at pitches because he builds in and then dismisses counter approaches so the competition are marginalised before they even have a chance to present. You can spot the guy with the lawyer background.

Comment by DH

2 good points there Dave. I’m not sure if you meant that, but they are. Agencies are as myopic with information as government representatives trying to get their own way and Robert’s approach to pitching is brilliant in the way he sells alternative directions before highlighting their flaws and the only possible route forward.

Comment by Pete

What do you want Dave? You never say nice things unless you want something. And I should know, I’m exactly the same.

Comment by Rob

I index above the average number of balls a man has. Always knew it, now I can prove it. Best post ever Rob.

Comment by Billy Whizz

Most incomprehensible comment ever.

Comment by John

Definitely. Billy hasn’t got any balls.

Comment by DH

Pot kettle black

Comment by northern

That was directed at Dodds by the way

Comment by northern

Errrrrm, you might have missed the point Billy.

Then again …

Comment by Rob

I love this Rob and good on the professor to highlight the dangers of statistics when in the wrong hands. Statistics are very important but sadly, they often end up becoming the weapon of choice for manipulators and the lazy.

Comment by Pete

“The weapon of choice for manipulators and the lazy”

I’m impressed with the vitriol Pete. Keep this up and Andy may lose his place as King Bastard. Ha.

Comment by Rob

I don’t get it..

Comment by niko

Either does Billy. (cue cymbal crash)

Comment by DH

You sad twat.

Comment by Billy Whizz

Dave, not Niko.

Comment by Billy Whizz

What don’t you get Niko?

Comment by George

Excellent. It also provides an opportunity to quote Pete Cook and Dudley Moore’s brilliant sketch.

“I’ve nothing against your left leg, the problem is neither do you.”

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Amusing anecdote. I’ve heard funnier, but they were from individuals who didn’t realise they were part of the joke.

Comment by Lee Hill

At last, with two legs, I am above average.

Comment by Marcus

Let’s hope you don’t have an accident and lose a leg today then.

Comment by Rob

Nothing makes Dodd’s happy

Comment by northern

I don’t think that’s fair Northern. Eighteen year old, Swedish au pairs who have low self esteem & bad eyesight do.

Comment by Rob

That’s pleasure

Comment by northern

No. That’s a miracle.

Comment by Rob

This is not cheering me up.

Comment by John

Good post though, reminds me tracking studies where they cross reference people who saw the advertising with brand preference – when of course, it’s the preference that often drives noticing the advertising, not the other way around.
There’s some classic statistical jiggery pokery in IPA papers too – the amount of winners who set out a clear problem, but them just twiddle to prove sales effect, not that solving the problem drove the sales is rather amusing

Comment by northern

Funny you should say that, I’m currently reviewing 76 ‘effectiveness papers’ and what some people think is ‘proof’ is possibly more depressing than hearing how much money Justine Bieber made last year.

Comment by Rob

Has anybody bothered to calculate the ROI of effectiveness papers/awards?

Comment by John

Byron Sharp and Peter Field probably have.

Comment by Rob

statistics are like fucking estate agents. answers why on a postcard and theres no fucking prize except the honour of amusing me. which is a fucking big honour.

Comment by andy@cynic

Is the answer to be found in Canada?

Comment by John

that made me laugh doddsy. then cry. bastard.

Comment by andy@cynic

[…] From Rob Campbell’s Musings of an opinionated sod. […]

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