Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics Redux

Attention: Please ignore this entry. I was feeling a little light-headed when I wrote it. Or maybe a little soft-headed — you be the judge

You know, I guess it’s not limited to the right-wing apologists. People all over the place are either deliberately deceptive or complete idiots. This morning, I heard an ad for a new Sharp copier, in which the spokesman claimed that this particular copier was 115 percent faster than any other copier in its class.

Hello, dumbshit! Unless the thing is actually going backward in time, that’s physically impossible! Percentage differences from a baseline figure are based on that baseline figure, not on some arbitrary number you seem to be pulling out of your ass. So, for example, if the old copier takes twenty seconds to make a copy, and yours takes fifteen seconds, yours is 25 percent faster. If yours takes ten seconds, it’s 50 percent faster. And so on. In other words, by your calculations, and on this hypothetical scale, your copier makes copes in negative three seconds.

Now, maybe you meant to say that your copier is 115 percent as fast as the “other” copier. Which would mean that yours actually takes longer to produce a copy — 23 seconds in our little demonstration. But somehow I doubt that’s your selling point. On the other hand, what’s more likely is that your copier is a mere 15 percent faster, and some marketing genius figured it sounded better to stick a “100” in front of it. Or perhaps the other copers are 115 percent as fast as your copier — making yours 87 percent as fast (or 13 percent faster). Here, maybe the marketing weasels figured that the “115 percent” number sounded better in the focus groups, so you decided to attach that figure to your copier instead. Still, I think most likely of all is that these business-school “idea men” just can’t do basic math.

Americans have a reputation for being both ignorant and greedy. And with ads like this, I don’t think we’re doing a whole hell of a lot to dispel that perception.


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