The Waterfall Chart
How do you know if you’ve become a statistics fanboy?
Yes, it’s a vested-interest question: apologies if you were looking for a vested-interest answer.
I mean, I know I could list some absurd stats which both you AND I compulsively have to check while watching sports or on election day (which seem more and more alike to me): TV producers strive to make these data look as sexy as possible, with all the help of their colored 3D pie charts. The fact that we want statistics on our screens is, of course, proven statistically: that’s why they bother making those cheese wheels in the first place. We just love them and crave them.
And how about our working environments? These bubbly graphs seem to be porn, in these contexts: as soon as someone draws one, workers unions and corporate CEOs alike start to forget about ‘rights and stuff’ and begin thinking with their genitals, arguing about who’s got the biggest spike. So let’s admit it, being statistics-freaks is among the essence of the being human experience, at least today.
I feel I need to admit it at least to myself: I think I’m addicted. How productive can it be thinking about the fact that modern humans have been on this planet for less than 0.12% of the time dinosaurs were? Yes, that’s the kind of stats I go after. Yes! Less than 0.12% is also how much you care about it, too! It is insane!
But there always have been those who opposed this love we all share: Winston Churchill was one.
I only believe in statistics that I doctored myself
It is mean, I know, and our love has got to be strong in order to overcome it.
Anyway, touché: we need to recognize that certain statistical data might be ‘noise’ (or junk, if you wish) but, in that case, shame on the person that applies the method, not on the method itself. This same falsifiable dynamic is also often found in scientific communities, which I find amusing since many people seem to perceive scientists to be agreeing with each other all the times. Fact is: it is possible to manipulate people by exploiting their statistical fetish. That’s why it’s important to remember that we are easily seduced by percentages and, therefore, we should keep the pants on next time the news channel show the GDP growth mountain graph.
Regardless, there are stats that seem to be dangerously overlooked, like the ones regarding global warming or arms industry: continuing the previous analogy, these numbers seem to have the same sex appeal of a bank you owe money to.
Why is that? Is it because we just need confirmations? Or because they threaten our convictions and/or force us to take action? Do they just need a waterfall chart, maybe..?