Vague and/or misleading claims can undermine otherwise useful themes

I’m pretty much a green sneaker, tree hugging conservationist. (The Nature Conservancy, Audubon, and Arbor Day get annual renewals like clockwork, I helped write and implement Scenic Road and Wetlands Preservation legislation here in Lebanon, NH in the late 1980s.) So I’m really disappointed when loss of species and habitat headlines and statistics are so oriented to shock value that my reaction is “Is there a seed of truth in this obvious attempt to mislead?” instead of concern for the subject matter. Today’s entry for my #please_read_tufte hall of shame: “…facing 50 percent drops in their numbers within seven years if the current rate of decline continues…” I’ll save you the math: that’s about 9.43 % per year. Now that is bad enough, and it avoids stirring up all manner of thoughts about “you’re lying to me somehow.” Now especially if they added some information about whether last year’s loss rate was an outlier or whether we should expect that to be about the rate for the upcoming years unless we do something. (Plenty of populations in the wild have cycles much steeper than that.) But no, all they wanted to do was publish 50% and damn the context. For someone who spends a lot of time trying to be clear and concise about the meaning of data and statistics this is really annoying – even if the underlying truth supports the claim, they sound like a vaporware sales team.

This is related to my friend Cary’s blog entry

(which I consider a classic.)

So when you post numbers and commentary about numbers, tell me something useful and succinct: Give me meaning in context, not the mathematical analog to making an ethical point by proof texting a fragment of the bible.

… and if you find yourself writing you improved performance by more than 100% make sure you’re clear that you’re talking about throughput of some transaction and not response time or be prepared to show me your time machine, ’cause without a time machine the asymptotic ceiling on response time reduction is 100%


About rsiz

Father and Husband, Oracle Technology Scientist and Consultant, planning to end poverty for citizens and legal US residents Lebanon, NH · See my wife's puzzles at
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