January 28, 2013
Using and misusing statistics in marketing and graphic design
I was reading a story recently that compared the life spans of people living in two places. The people in one place, the author explained, live twenty years less than the people living in the other place. Then she went on to make the case, using statistical data, for the cause.
I have no idea whether this particular case was credible or not — it could be exactly what the author speculates or there could be some underlying cause that she missed entirely — in this type of case, it's very difficult to know. But I have learned to question.
It did get me thinking (again) about how much and how often we use statistics to make a point, sell a product, or promote an idea. And it reminds me about the special responsibility we have as marketers to use statistics and data in an ethical way.
Here are two books on the subject that you might find interesting. (Haha... then you will be skeptical too.)
First, How to Lie with Statistics by Darrell Huff. It is one of the rare non-fiction books that, after over 50 years in publication, stands at 1,715 in the Amazon Best Sellers Ranking. In part, the description explains it, "runs the gamut of every popularly used type of statistic, probes such things as the sample study, the tabulation method, the interview technique, or the way results are derived from the figures, and points up the countless number of dodges which are used to fool rather than to inform."
And second, Don't Believe Everything You Think: The 6 Basic Mistakes We Make in Thinking by Thomas Kida. It explains Kida's "'the six-pack of problems' that leads many of us unconsciously to accept false ideas:
"We prefer stories to statistics
"We seek to confirm, not to question, our ideas.
"We rarely appreciate the role of chance and coincidence in shaping events.
"We sometimes misperceive the world around us.
"We tend to oversimplify our thinking.
"Our memories are often inaccurate."
"In a complex society where success--in all facets of life--often requires the ability to evaluate the validity of many conflicting claims, the critical-thinking skills examined in this informative and engaging book will prove invaluable."