Friday, June 03, 2011

Fibs, Lies and Statistics

A news article caught my eye today, reminding me of just how a biased viewpoint can distort reality.

The UK government's Office of National Statistics (ONS) released a "nugget" purporting to be a "brief analysis" of commuting data for October - December 2009. Those who know me will realise just how irritated I am about these statistics by my use of quotation marks.

The associated data download comprises of four tiny tables designed to feed the online charts, rather than a body of raw data that can be independently analysed. The ONS could have plucked these figures out of thin air, for all I can tell.

The UK gets split into "London" and "Rest of UK". Speaking as somebody who used to commute to London, "Rest of UK" is a bl***y big area.

What really got me mad, though, is the following data:

Now, ignoring the fact that the totals don't add up to 100, let alone match, look at the figures for bus, train and underground use. Tyne & Wear, Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Birmingham - they all have comprehensive public transport networks, yet we're led to believe that the whole of the UK put together uses fewer buses and trains for work journeys than Londoners do. I wish I'd realised that when I was stuck in 2 hour each way public transport commutes to Birmingham. The volume of humanity seemed pretty close to that of London in the rush hour.

To make it worse, the Independent's own graphic breaks a few data visualisation rules in its own right:

Take a look at the commuting chart - surely the "Rest of the UK" circle should be larger for the 46 - 60 minute commute?

Without the underlying facts, all the pretty pictures mean nothing. Which leads me to today's questions.

What pretty pictures are you painting about your network marketing business? What fibs are you telling about your performance and your activity? What does the raw data underlying your business tell you? What do you mean, you don't keep statistics?

*"Fibs, Lies and Statistics" is believed to be the original version of the quote that Mark Twain attributed to Disraeli. There's a nice Wikipedia article on Sir Charles Wentworth Dilke too. Don't say this blog's not entertaining (not to mention able to head off on a tangent and never return...)

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