Jason Smith

I'm Jason. This is my home on the web where I write. 

Why I hate Infographics

If I told you that this cheese was 10% fat, a picture in your head
would be painted of a fatty product that may be something to avoid. I
could tell you instead that it is 90% fat free, and the thought
implied is one of a predominantly healthy foodstuff. I often wonder
why the US government doesn't advertise an employment rate of 91%
instead of unemployment at 9%.

I came across the book "How to Lie with Statistics" when I was 14 and
although it was quite an old book (written in 1954) it equipped me
with an ability to look a beyond a headline statistic and question the
validity of the statement. It also made me realize that correlation is
not the same thing as causation and to be very careful confusing the

Let's say one headline statistic reads "60% of Apple devices sold are
to males". That would make you think that Apple is a company preferred
by men. But how did the surveyor come to this figure? Did he ask
randoms in the street? Did he ring people on the phone? Let's say he
rung people on the phone supposedly at random. If he did his calls at
night, perhaps the male in the house would usually answer the phone,
and thus skew the data. Maybe he based his data on activations. Well,
in my home all the devices are registered in my name, but in fact only
2 of the 12 Apple devices are used only by me, and the rest by my wife
and daughters. I dare say a lot of homes would just use Dad's Apple ID
thereby ensuring everyone could share apps and music. This would
therefore be an unreliable measure of which sex in fact uses Apple
products more.

Another reason I glaze over when I see headlines and statistics is
that I spent most of my working life in sales where I further learnt
the art of phrasing often negative statements in such a way that it
actually seemed like good news to the customer. I noticed that
McDonald's would write the word "only" in front of its prices,
implying that the price was indeed low. I adopted this practice myself
to much success.
I recall at one retailer I started working in, a sign had been made to
warn the customer that their order would not be processed unless a 50%
deposit had been paid. The vibe of the sign was "pay up or get lost".
I decided to put a spin on it.
It now reads: "Great news to all customers. We now only require a 50%
deposit to place your order." So much more inviting and less
threatening. The client doesn't feel like an enemy, and may even feel
like they got a good deal in only paying half up front, instead of the
full amount. They don't know that the deposit used to be 10%.

Thus I simply don't have time for infographics. Infographics are
those pretty pictures that look like posters with a bunch of
statistics and icons that make you go "really? I drink enough coffee
to fill a bath each year!?"
The authors of them want to grab attention, not educate and enlighten.
They are pretty to look at, but are often void of intelligent argument
or opinion.

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