Thursday, August 2, 2012

4 Ways to Spot Phony Data In the Media

Whenever we turn on our televisions or read the paper, we see statistics and figures regarding everything from the probability of rain, to the rate of employment increase or decrease in the engineering sector, to the total number of babies born in the last forty-eight hours. Numbers are generally viewed as factual. If you add one and one, you always get two. However, like any other type of data, numbers can be manipulated, and how the data analysis is presented is as important, if not more so, than the “facts” that are generated from that analysis.

When viewing statistics, look for the following red flags, which may indicate that you are viewing manipulated data.

1. Before believing a statistic, make sure that the company or organization did not “throw out” data that was negative, or which did not prove the point they wanted to make.

2. Find out exactly what was surveyed or what questions were actually asked of participants. Often, the data presented may have been gathered based on a completely different question or issue.

3. Make sure the statistics actually apply to the group that was being used for the analysis. Asking 15 dentists whether dancers should receive healthcare will generate a very different response from asking 15 dancers whether dancers should receive healthcare.

4. Find out as much as you can about the polled group before believing the data. A supposedly “random” study of 1000 people is not so random if all of the people studied are students at the same university, in the same major, and are all the same age.

At FastFig, we believe strongly in data transparency; in fact, we are building a numerical platform centered around it.  We believe that by arming the world with solid facts, we will all be able to make better decisions to solve the world's problems, big and small. 

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