Posted in Guest Contributor, Humor, Special Report, Views

Playing the Percentages

***SPECIAL REPORT***

Management of The Nudge Wink Report is pleased to announce…we bribed flattered arm-twisted scored our first guest blogger. Contributing here for the first time, please welcome FloridaBorne, a major ranter from Two on a Rant.

Get out your calculators and go!

Ever notice that people seem to throw around percentages and statistics like middle school spoon-launched meatballs in a food fight?

You have to trust me. I'm Cute.
You have to trust me. I’m Cute.

For decades I’ve wondered, “Where do people find these golden nuggets of information?”  So…after doing an in-depth 2-minute search yesterday, I found this article on Business Insider. (http://www.businessinsider.com/736-of-all-statistics-are-made-up-2010-2). Yes, it says that over 73.6% of percentages are made up. What about the other 26.4%? Where do they come from?

Intrigued, I dusted off my text reader and listened to the rest of the article while I played solitaire. The author, Mark Suster, gleaned percentages for a living, and coded computers, and on top of that he has an MBA. He wondered why businesses would listen to him when he was in his 20’s. Who wouldn’t listen to a numbers cruncher like him with a brain the size of Hong Kong who makes people like me look like wheel-spinning gerbils? He can even order Sushi in Japanese!

His first clue that there was a problem with all those infallible numbers began when he started looking at the wellspring of this knowledge. After all, the data had to originate from somewhere.

This is it in a nutshell (and I quote from his conversation with the anonymous expert he talked to):

So you interviewed the people to get a plausible story line and then just did a simple estimation of the numbers going forward?”

Yes. Pretty much.”

In other words, those numbers came from fallible people who pulled them out of a place where the sun doesn’t shine.

After that, it was just a matter of researching where the ripples made by this worthless rock passed off as knowledge traveled in the corporate pond.

His bottom lines?

Statistics aren’t evil. They’re just a bit like the weather – hard to really predict.

And as they say about economists and weathermen – they’re the only two jobs you can keep while being wrong nearly 100% of the time.”

You can only hope you get a survey this short.
You can only hope you get a survey this short.

I can hear the collective protest chattering across cyberspace, “It can’t be true! What about Nielsen, Harris, and Gallup?”

Yes, some of the percentages you see come from market research surveys. Let’s explore what this means.

Think of yourself as the underpaid, overworked analyst the survey takers are relying on for answers. If you’ve never filled out an on-line or paper survey, the following unscientific analysis based on personal experience will be an eye opener for you.

I’m sure there are statistics about the number of people out in cyberspace who fill out surveys, but I turned to an expert to answer that question:  Me.  I’ve filled out enough to wallpaper my house 5 times over. What happens when you’ve clicked on your 100th microscopic dot and have 100 more to go for the 50 points they’re giving you to do it?

“Would you say that you are tired….”

Would you say you yawn: 3x a day, 4x a day, 5... who the hell cares?
Would you say you yawn:
3x a day,
4x a day,
5…
who the hell cares?

·       all of the time

·        most of the time

·        some of the time

·        half the time

·        sometimes

·        choose this answer if you’re 5 seconds away from comatose

Congratulations on finishing the 200 question survey, you now have only 950 points to go before you can earn your free can opener. If you can’t wait that long, I saw one just like it at a dollar store.

Survey’s don’t have a “choose this answer if you’re paying attention” line at the 34th, 58th and 95th questions because people are, in actuality, caring about the answer.

But, you might ask, what about people who scan their grocery items. Those are based on fact…right? Let’s take a look at the truth about scan-this-for-prizes surveys.

I want it, I want it,  I want it !!!! Here--have some onion cream
I want it, I want it,
I want it !!!!
Here–have some
onion cream

You have a family of 4. It’s Saturday and you’ve just come home after bailing your 10 year old out of juvie for trying to walk out of the SuperStore door with that Disney movie you refused to buy. The ice cream is melted all over the onions, your roast is close to the limit for the number of salmonella that can grow on one carcass and you just want to stop the pain! You throw the roast in the oven, throw out the onion-cream, look at the scanner, throw the perishables in the fridge, scan 5 things, send it in and swear it’s the truth.

I’d say that 93.27% of the time percentages aren’t worth the ink that prints them or the dots that created them on your screen.

You know this has to be true since I’m right about 83.59383% of the time.

NudgeWinkContributorBadgeAnd with this post, The Nudge Wink Report has upped its percentage of guest bloggers by 100 per cent! Thanks FloridaBorne for giving us a peek into the mind of a percentages junkie. We’d like to present you with an official “NWR Contributor” badge. Stick it wherever you’d like.

— Nudge, Co-editor

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Author:

Crabby person who likes to rant. Reading it is free so remember-- you get what you pay for. Well endowed with the multi-layered weirdness that lurks inside a not-quite-right-mind. That's how I write SciFi. Crabby, weird, and to make matters worse, I write poetry. Some of it is even...shudder...nice. I feel like a sandwich that went on a journey of self-discovery just to find I was pastrami with Maraschino Cherries, hot peppers, the contents of an MRE and broccoli on gluten free cheese bread. After that kind of trauma no 'wich is the same again.

29 thoughts on “Playing the Percentages

  1. I never thought of it just this way but I think you’re 100 per cent correct.*

    (+ or – a few percentages based on whether it rains today or not)

    Great post. Thanks for bringing it to NWR!

    Like

  2. It is my guess…and I’m an expert at guessing…that you will be as predictably successful as Portland’s premier weather man, Zamboni Zaffino who has bet his life repeatedly over the predictability of snow falling each winter, this NW winter season is, already, no exception. Belly up to the window Girls and Boys…the percentage-able odds and long-shots are on the board…..

    Like

      1. If my percentage calculations are correct, all the substantive data reviewed, correlations reversed (several times) and then thrown into the big lottery wheel cage and spun exactly 3.9 times, my guess is Zamboni Z. is working towards a fault factor of minus 7.5. Give or take.

        Like

  3. This post came at just the right time. I’m heading down to Lucky’s Pool Hall. With this post banging around in my head, I should be able to play with the percentages (and the minds of my fellow pool players) and make enough money to finally pay off my bar tab.

    — Wink

    Like

  4. My 2.5 children and I really enjoyed reading this post most of the time.

    A college has a policy. If application is received by one date, a fee will apply. If it is received later, a slightly higher fee applies.

    The fun part? The college has two ways of “framing” (describing) the situation.

    1. Submit application by the first date and receive a “discount” for being “early”
    2. Submit the application after the first date and be subjected to “base” fee and a “penalty for late application”

    A college actually did this. With the first approach the college achieved 63% early submissions. With the second approach, they achieved 97% early submissions.

    Moral: It’s not just what you say. It’s how you say it.

    Like

    1. The way it is phrased does make a big difference. I would have gone for the discount. 🙂

      Around election time you get surveys that purport to ask your opinion. Instead of phrasing the questions to be neutral, like, “Who are you going to vote for” and then list the names, it says, “Would you vote for John Jones who agreed to sell off half of the port of Los Angeles to the Chinese?”

      Like

  5. Earlier today I was looking at one of those infographics that everyone seems to love. There were at least two facts on it I knew to be incorrect. So…I’m thinking that the percentages that were included are probably as accurate. Good to know that you can back me up with some statistics, however you found them.

    Like

    1. Thanks.

      One of my favorite statistics is that over 69% of people in the USA are overweight or obese. All you have to do is sit on a bench at a superstore checkout for an hour and figure that out. 🙂

      Like

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