The sticking point

of statistics

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Mark Coster

Founder of Pixooma

In theory, statistics should help settle arguments. They ought to provide stable reference points that everyone can agree on. Yet in recent years, they seem to have lost their power. After all, it’s quite obvious to most of us that 9 out of 10 cats probably don’t, and have never preferred Whiskas* and 80% of dentists have never recommended Colgate’s products.

Deal in truths

Recently I was busy trying to find marketing and design statistics for an innovative marketing campaign that I was working on. Before using them, I wanted to be sure that they could be evidenced, were genuine and could not be challenged. After all, I didn’t want to be guilty of sharing something that blatantly wasn’t true.

You would think that this process would be easy. You would be wrong. It proved to be a very frustrating exercise. Mainly because it was apparent that some facts could not be accurately referenced, which made me think about something Vic Reeves ‘famously’ said:

“88.2% of statistics are made up on the spot.”

“88.2% of statistics are made up on the spot.”
Vic Reeves (possibly)

A movable feast

Well as if to prove my point, I Googled this quote and it appears that the 88.2% is quite variable. In some cases, the figure can be as low as 43.7%, rising up to 73.6%, before hitting a whopping 98%. So, if Benjamin Disraeli is correct with his quote - "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics," how are we supposed to believe any statistics?

We’ve all read blogs, articles and social media updates that start with those almost believable words - “according to recent research” or “latest studies indicate” etc. Well unless what follows has been evidenced by a second source, my advice is not to believe them. In fact, it’s probably good practice to not take any statistics at face value until you are able to back them up with details of where they actually came from, who said them and in what context, or you see the same statistic being bandied about by reputable organisations.

Don’t be a peddler of lies

Now I’m not saying that people or organisations set out to deceive you. Not everyone is a peddler of lies and you really shouldn’t be unduly worried about the honesty of every business. Because let’s face it the truth is far less dramatic. Essentially people are lazy. They don’t dig deep and try to find out the authenticity of something, they just see it, assume it’s true and then share it, hoping that what they are saying will be taken as read.

Let’s face it, we’ve all be fooled by fake news, misinformed by bogus product/service reviews and swayed by biased media. My advice is simple. Before you cut, paste or share a statistic, thus spreading yet more misinformation, take your time, do your own due diligence and follow my top tips:

Check the source/authors.

Look beyond the headline.

Double check to see if the same statistic appears elsewhere.

Establish the facts. Understanding where the data came from, how it was made, how it’s helpful and if there were things you need to watch out for.

Confirm the date of publication.

I’ve always likened the accuracy of statistics to the weather forecast. Useful as a guide, but sometimes can be completely unreliable. At Pixooma, we like facts and statistics but are always keen to make sure we check that they stack up and are dependable. After all, our business principals are underpinned by us continuing to have honest, transparent and productive relationships.

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