A classic example of math V.S. public understanding is currently in the media. The SCIENTIFIC debate over cancer screening guidelines should be about the MATH. The scientists that developed these new guidelines just didn’t make them up, they analyzed the population and developed recommendation based on the overall statistics. Meanwhile, there are talk show hosts and other media speaking out against these guidelines with little understanding of the actual report results, i.e. the math behind the report. I have no issue with people disagreeing with the report results, but please have a scientific reason, i.e. “The study was flawed because the population size wasn’t statistically significant based on the amount of change the study was looking for.”

]]>When applying for Social Security, I came in 3 months early, as advised by SS. Well, my first check came less than 1 month later. The rep talked me into taking the SS benefits 3 months early. It would only be a loss of $15 per month. She said it would take me 6 years to make up for those 3 lost checks. I did the math when I got home and she was right.

However, I decided to also do the math from my point of view. Forget the first 3 checks and just go for the regular amount. I tease that I intend to live to be 123. But, just suppose I made it only to 100 (which many people do nowadays). Using that time line, I have lost $5k. Always figure math both ways – the way of others and your way. Same figures, just different outcomes.

]]>Thanks for checking my attitude on that. You are correct, my presentation skills do lack. (on average they don’t though) :))))

]]>You could give people an average, a mean, and a standard deviation and they would still make flawed inferences.

]]>Where you run into trouble is when people take the averages to mean something more than they actually do. Maybe it’s because of grade inflation in schools (where most of the grades are A’s and B’s even though they still call C the “average”) that being “merely average,” let alone below average, is somehow inadequate. It’s not. If your house is smaller than the average of 2343 square feet, or even if it’s smaller than the median 2090 square feet, that doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with it – it just means that a lot of new houses are bigger.

Likewise, when high-sounding figures are quoted as the average wedding budget or the average amount parents spend to raise a child, that doesn’t mean you have to spend more than that amount or that there’s anything wrong with you if you don’t.

]]>Unfortunately, in your example, the median numbers for that group are ALSO three legs, one wing, and half a beak! :-)

]]>Does anyone know if Black Friday is REALLY the first day of the year that retailers turn a profit? I can’t believe hardware, furniture or many specialty stores are that dependent on holiday shoppers. Is this cliche statistic based on Hickory Farms or what?

I’m guessing that Dan of #16 spends an average of 3.14 hours a day criticizing others to make himself feel superior. “So please don’t act all high and mighty smarter than mathematics.” He may know more than I do about numbers, but his language and social skills are a joke.

]]>Its important to look at the kind of statistic they’re citing (median or mean) and also to consider what the population they’re talking about. In the case with ‘average new houses’ its easy for people to apply that stat to think that most Americans have houses this size which is not true.

]]>It runs through the things Trent discussed and more regarding, well, how to lie with statistics. Short, well written, easy to understand book.

]]>Dig deeper!

]]>John DeFlumeri Jr

]]>“Back to houses, I don’t think that a family earning an ‘average’ income can afford an ‘averege’ size house how does that add up?”

Oskar, my friend, I think you’ve just uncovered the root cause of the entire economic collapse that occurred last year. If only you’d been asking this question in 2001 or so, this whole mess could’ve been avoided. :)

]]>And yes, averages can be misleading, but you need to start somewhere. If a faucet drips erratically, you would still let it fill up the bucket to see how long it takes to drip a gallon. And you might try again the next day to see if it is dripping faster. The average just shows trend, not breakdown. It’s the change up or down that makes it a useful stat.

]]>the “problem” with averages isn’t the average, it’s those that misuse them.

An average simply explains a set of data within a certain amount of confidence. That confidence level, nor the error in data gathering are rarely, if ever discussed, thus leaving an “average” reader to their own machinations.

We get closer when articles mention a statistic and offer further information such as; +/- and how many were surveyed.

Bottom line: Averages NEVER Lie!!!!!!!! EVER!!!!! You CAN’T SKEW math!!!!!! People CAN misrepresent, but math is constant. So please don’t act all high and mighty smarter than mathematics. Go out there and actually LEARN how math works, then you won’t be caught with misinformation.

(And judging by most of the comments out there, I guarantee that the average poster has never taken a collegiate level statistics class, or if they had, did not do so well)

]]>Back to houses, I don’t think that a family earning an ‘avarage’ income can afford an ‘avarege’ size house how does that add up?

]]>The problem is that statistics (even from valid, professionally performed studies) can be manipulated to prove just about any point. I’m not saying they are lying, just that statistics can be manipulated by changing the perspective (i.e. analyzing a smaller portion of the overall data).

I’ll leave you with a quote from comedian Steven Wright “42.7% of all statistics are made up on the spot.”

]]>Not quite — mean, mode, and median are each measures of central tendency, but NOT all are the ‘average’.

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