Meaningless Numbers

It has been a while since I wrote for my Statistics series. This article should, hopefully, be a simpler topic than the last two. Those last two covered Measures of Central Tendency such as averages, medians, and mode, as well as Correlation versus Causation.

What I intend to cover here is context.

If you’ve read my other posts (and you should), you’ll notice I don’t like stranded numbers. In my Millennial Income post, I say this:

One-dimensional statistics give no context.

I hope that by the end of this post you are able to recognize how pointless some statistics can be. On the other hand, if you ever see me guilty of this, feel free to call me out.


The inspiration for this post came from a conspiracy website. I won’t publish the website nor the topic because it isn’t worth giving them the traffic. But I am willing to mention it in private if anybody wants some background information.

But I will say this: They claimed a supposed 400% increase in risk of a congenital defect within a population.

giphy

WOW, that sure sounds like a lot!

Until I looked into the original risk percentage. The tone of this source was very alarming and was trying to explain why an entire population was, or will be, problematic.

The highest number I saw was 3%. I did a quick check and it appears that a 400% increase in a 3% risk is still only 12%. Maybe I’m missing something but is that a large enough risk to hold against an entire population?


Lets say I make $90,000 in my salary each year.

In Dallas, where I currently reside, that’s pretty good. Without diving into the math, $90,000 is 30% higher than the estimated “Happiness Threshold” for Dallas. Awesome!

In San Francisco, notorious for its high cost of living, I would need around $179,000 for the same standard of living. That’s almost double!

giphy1What about, say, South Africa? In South Africa you need a salary of $46,484 to be part of the top 1% of income earners. That’s half of my pretend $90,000 salary. I can live like a king!

$90,000 means a lot of different things to a lot of  different people. To fully understand and appreciate what a $90,000 salary means, you need more information.


 

There isn’t much to conclude or end with. The point of this post is to give examples on why you should never just accept a number because it makes sense. A 400% increase is meaningless without context. An absolute value of 90,000 is meaningless without context. The media and companies love to talk about numbers as if they’re important. Unless you know the story that

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