Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

I watched this great TED talk recently about how displaying data graphically can really help the audience understand it quickly. I totally recommend you watch the video!

The talk demonstrates how statistics get trotted out because they're shocking, but those same values often imply a different--and more accurate and valuable--picture when you provide their context. As an example, everyone knows China has the largest army in the world, but if you divide the size of the army by the country's population, then China drops to 108th position! Burma has the largest army compared to its population.

So here's another statistic: E-book sales will likely reach $1 billion dollars for 2010. That's a pretty impressive number isn't it? And it's certainly the number being trumpeted in headlines--as is the statistic that e-book sales are up 127%.

But the number that puts these values in proper perspective isn't being trumpeted as loudly, because ONE BEEEEEELLION DOLLARS just sounds so impressive all by itself.

The publishing industry makes about $35 billion dollars a year.

E-books sales are growing enormously, but out of every 100 people who buy a book, only about 3 of them are buying an e-book.

This is an important, growing market, but at the moment, it isn't a large market. Amid all the hyperbole, we need to keep that in mind.

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

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