Friday, February 10, 2006

Statistically speaking

Do you know that more than 30,000 people a day stop by Dizgraceland to string together the pearls of wisdom I am shucking for you? Here's a chart showing weekly hits:

That number is growing by at least 5 percent a week. At this rate, I should have more than 360,000 readers by the end of a year (or more precisely 361,233.1).

That is pretty darned impressive, isn't it? Well, not really. It's a crock of crapola. I made it up, including the chart. I'm lucky if I get a hundred hits a day and most of them are misdirected fans looking for Elvis.

But my pitiful Web traffic isn't the point. The point is how easily people accept statistics as the truth. The problem is that every statistic has an equal and opposite statistic that counters it. I have therefore come to the conclusion that there is no proof for anything.

This may seem like a bold statement, but just google a search for any arguement and you'll find outrageous claims for both sides. What more or less triggered my diatribe on statistics was an episode of Penn and Teller's Bullshit I watched last night about the debate over secondhand smoke.

I began watching the program skeptical that even Penn and Teller could pooh pooh all of the obvious data available that smokers are killing everyone within a 25-foot radius of them with secondhand smoke. But they essentially point out that the only research available citing any data about secondhand smoke was a 1993 EPA report that, according to Penn and Teller, was (pardon the pun) blowing smoke up our preverbial butt. A federal court even ruled that the report was flawed.

Don't get me wrong. I have no love for cigarette smoke. But let's not ban smoking based on bogus statistics. Let's be honest and ban cigarettes because we want to be smug about not being one of the poor addicted people who has to scurry out into the rain to inhale addictive yet satisfying carcinegins.

Every day we are bombarded with statistics stating we should and shouldn't eat eggs, butter, red meat, sugar, flour, cheese, or marbles (I just threw that in). Alcohol is bad for us, but red wine prevents heart disease. Exercise is good for you unless you die of a heart attack while engaged in it. Rubbing a rabbit's foot is good luck (unless you are the rabbit it came from). Eating at McDonalds makes you fat or eating at McDonalds makes you thin.

Let's face it. Statistically speaking, there is no such thing as the truth. At least I'm 99.9 percent sure of that.


Alex Pendragon said...

Statistically speaking, everything you said in this post has a 38% probability of being the utter truth, 29% chance of being bullshit, and another 78% will get you eggroll. Now, divide all those percentages by the round root, not the square, of Pi, and you will get three numbers which added together and then divided by the hypotenuse of the number of times I said anything that made any friggin sense, you end up with more numbers which can be used by 38 different cults to pinpoint the exact date of their respective raptures, or the closest thing they have to it. The only hope you have of profiting from this divine knowledge is the outside chance that the National Enquirer will pay big bucks for it just to keep it out of the hands of the Star, which keeps printing dates like that and never gets it right.

Time said...

That's exactly what I'm talking about. Odds are you are right. Since you live in Florida near the Enquirer's office, perhaps you could let them know about my little study.

Naughti Biscotti said...

The average person stays on my blog 2.5 seconds. That's got to make ya feel good. :)

R. said...

I suspect you've been in marketing too long.

You can be %99.9 certain that given no unusual mitigating factors you can go outside and drop a penny and it will fall down and not up. You can be %99.9 certain that an object at rest tends to stay at rest unless an outside force acts upon it.

The bad science is why I don't support any of the smoking bans (that have sadly passed) in this area. Why take away people's freedom unnecessarily?

Anonymous said...

As with all things marketers/government want you to do, they win if they get people talking about the wrong thing.

It's not about the "taking away people's freedoms". Regardless of the "flawed studies", the real reason to ban smoking is the dramatic impact it has on things other than other people's health. We all pay higher insurance premiums because of SMOKER'S statistically poorer health. More of our taxes pay for SMOKERS on Medicare. We all bear added burden when SMOKERS miss work because they're more likely to be ill due to a choosen lifestyle that negatively impacts their health. (Of course some have made the arguement that those without children bear similar burdens when co-workers leave work to care for sick kids - but as someone much wiser once said, I digress.)

Personally, I think smoking is one of the stupidest things out there, but I have no interest in "forcing" them to stop (except maybe for not being interested in subsidising their poor choices). However, taking pity on them when they have to go outside to smoke is a little misplaced.

As far as red wine. Has anyone noticed that without fail, about every 4-5 months there is a story on the news regarding yet another study claiming how good wine is for the body? They sure seem intent on convincing us. The only other thing they seem to do this with is chocolate. (I would think a cynic & a marketer - no doubt the perfect creation - would have keyed into this.)

But, I digress. You're truely correct, the only story statistics tell is no story - "a crock of crapola."

Time said...

I do believe that 10 percent more people commented on this post than on previous posts. This is a sign that the economy must be on the upswing.

Lights, That statistic about fast food workers is very disturbing. What is the world coming to if we can't exploit an uneducated workforce to work for minimum wage and wear a hair net?

Shandi, If I did believe that my average visitor stayed longer than 2.5 seconds, it would be only because they are confused about where to find the information about the lost Elvis diaries (the ones he kept while in the woomb). Your fan base is much more loyal and focused.

R, My dear literal nephew. I take it you are not a fan of the Matrix or the X files or you would not have tried to drag gravity into the discussion.

And finally, i ride the bus (or subway occasionally I imagine), Very good points. But everyone already knows that "a jug of wine a day keeps the doctor at bay." Chocolate is a given. I believe Bailey's succeeded in combining the two.

And don't you love the alliteration of "crock of crapola?"

R. said...

Tim-Elvis wrote:
"R, My dear literal nephew. I take it you are not a fan of the Matrix or the X files or you would not have tried to drag gravity into the discussion."

Actually I have received the Matrix Trilogy and the Animatrix DVDs as gifts. I've viewed all of them at least 101 times - I still can not prove a negative.

R. said...

i ride the bus:
I agree with you that it's a reasonable compromise to disallow smoking indoors in most places of business. It's also reasonable to have smoking and non-smoking sections in resturaunts. But it doesn't stop with that.

Insurance providers who only insure non-smokers exist. States which have laws that disallow insurance discrimination based on smoking/non-smoking criteria are limiting the freedom of the shareholders to run their insurance business as they see fit. The same laws limit the consumer's freedom by limiting their choices in insurance providers.

A law dictating that I can not smoke in a bar where I once could is by definition limiting my freedom.

As for smokers missing work - it's up to HR and management to hire people who can do the job and to enforce attendance policies. If HR and management can't do that within the framework of labor law then they need to be replaced with people who can and/or the labor laws need to be changed.

Show me the data: What percentage of my Medicare/Medicaid tax dollars is being used to treat illnesses that are a direct result of smoking? If it ends up more than five bucks a month then maybe I'll be interested. Otherwise, as far as I'm concerned the system is working as it should - amortizing the high costs of the minority across the majority.

In addition to paying into medicare smokers also pay sin tax on the tobacco. I believe smokers pay more than enough restitution.

Socialism is only fair if everyone is equal. On a practical level the masses have to believe the noble lie that "everyone is equal even when they aren't." Orwell's "Animal Farm" has something to say about what happens when we start making judgement calls about who is "more equal" (non-smokers) than others (smokers.) I'm personally not too fond of socialism.

I wish you well.

Perhaps we could continue this dialog via email? Tim-Elvis: would you mind being an exchange for email addresses to avoid spam?

Anonymous said...

Wow, I check in on Dizgraceland every 3-4 months (and comment even more rarely) and I’ve raised some hackles. R. you’ve some salient points, but the theme I was trying to get across was that the issue at hand is rarely the only true consideration.

Buuuuuttttt, since you mention it -

My father was a chain smoker for most of his life, so I’m intimately familiar dealing with second hand smoke. If you’re going to tell me breathing in arsenic, rat poison, and other carcinogens is not in the least bit harmful, I guess we aren’t going to get very far. There are just as many (or more) non-“flawed” studies detailing harmful effects (using our crock of crapola friend, Mr. Statistic) as there are studies like the one cited by Tim-Elvis.

You mentioned Socialism and Fascism – neither of which I advocated. Why is it (sounding a little “Animal Farm”-ish) more fair for a smoker to be able to smoke in public than for a non-smoker to not be bothered by poisonous air? (Anyone who believes the smoke in the smoking section doesn’t make it to the non-smoking section is…well, I guess they’re smoking something.)

By the strictest definition of the Constitution, preventing one from smoking wherever they choose is a violation of rights; however, many similar arguments have been made – not being allowed to burn garbage in your backyard is a violation of your rights, being forced to wear a seatbelt is a violation of your rights, the fact that it is illegal to run over your neighbor for burning garbage in his backyard is a violation of your rights (even if you’re wearing your seatbelt – go figure). The woman next to me at the store yesterday who passed gas was certainly a violation of my rights.

Anyway, you see where I’m going here. There is much more to consider in the end than being forced to stand in the rain in order to smoke a cigarette.

I apologize to Tim-Elvis and his regular readers (all 360,000 of them) for these digressions. I know watching others debate is about as much fun as paying taxes. I’ll end my comments there and I promise not to do it again.

My best to you all (R. certainly included) and I’ll check back with Dizgraceland in another 3-4 months.

Time said...

No apologies needed, iridethebus (except for the comment about only stopping by Dizgraceland every three or four months...that hurt). I urged R. to respond. Healthy debate never hurt anyone...unless you have some studies to suggest it does.