By The Numbers: A Stat to Prove Anything You Like

This blog grew by 450 percent! Wow! Sounds good, doesn’t it? Let’s take a closer look at just how good that is.

I haven’t posted for ages, and I’d already decided that this site was dead in the water. After all, it has a horribly outdated design and it doesn’t get me any business. But I’m between projects and got the idea of starting a new blog covering a wider range of topics. So I did that. Just as I was finishing my introductory post, I saw a notification that this site is doing rather well. There’s big growth in stats! “Wow!” I thought, “I’d better check that out!” So I did. Thanks to all 45 of you for paying me a visit!

Anyway, that got me thinking. 45 views up from zero is a really nice stat, especially if expressed as a percentage. My Blog grew its views by 450 percent! Looks good, doesn’t it? I still have 45 readers, but the percentage looks much better than the reality. And that got me thinking about other suspicious-looking stats I’ve come across in my research. Can you prove anything by numbers? I think you can!

SMS Marketing Has Good Conversion Rates but it Also Has Poor Conversion Rates

One of the “statistically-proven” things I once found in my travels around the internet was that SMS marketing campaigns have good conversion rates. I was suspicious! I get so many marketing messages via SMS these days that I rarely even check them on my phone. When I do, I roll my eyes and think nostalgically of the days when the messages I received were from friends. I certainly don’t buy anything because I saw an SMS about it. Am I just weird?

So I did some digging. Guess what I found?

I found two vastly differing conversion statistics for SMS marketing, and I found them on the same website! I’m not going to cite it here because I’m not here to trash anybody, merely to prove that numbers can say whatever you want them to. In one post, the writer asserted that one percent conversion from a marketing SMS is actually pretty good. That sounds fair. In another post on the very same site, they said that the average (note: average) conversion rate from SMS marketing was a whopping 29 percent! Same site – two vastly differing stats.

Which do you think is accurate? I’m rooting for one percent or less. Are they lying? I hope not. Maybe they’re just using a different set of numbers and a different set of circumstances.

You Can Find Stuff to “Prove” Anything

One of the things I shake my head about was the week in which I had to write two articles for two different clients. One was meant to say that just about any screen time is bad for kids. Another was meant to say that certain types of screen time can be very constructive. I found information, including statistics, to prove both points. It was certainly interesting. I just had to be careful to only quote the information supporting my client’s point of view and voila! Two opposite points proven, along with stats, in a week!

Who is right? And am I guilty of duplicity?

In this instance, as in most, I think the moderate view is the more sensible one. Did that stop me from writing an article “proving” that all screen time is bad for kids? It did not. I’m there to express my client’s point of view, not my own, and I only draw the line when it’s something really extreme and possibly unethical. If someone wants me to cite research that supports their point of view and no other, sure, I’ll do it. As for my client’s readers, they should exercise critical thinking. I’m sorry if that sounds brutal, but there it is!

Don’t Trust Anything You Read Without Questioning It

We’re inclined to read with confirmation bias. We already believe something, and we love any information that supports our beliefs. It’s a dangerous place to be. It takes us down rabbit holes into a wonderland of stats and words that “prove” that we’re right. And sometimes, we really are right, or at least, partially right. All the same, it’s always good to research an opposing point of view and try keeping an open mind. Always ask questions. Trust your gut, but be ready to take in information that may lead you to think twice. None of us should read on auto on the assumption that there are figures to prove something, and therefore it must be true.

Look out for bullshit. It baffles brains and there’s a lot of it about. Sometimes it’s subtle. Sometimes it’s in-your-face, but it’s lurking behind every bush and if you aren’t alert to it, you won’t spot it. Scientific studies? A lot of them are misrepresented, and of those that aren’t, some of them are from discredited sources. Just because someone wrote it and published it doesn’t mean it’s true.

As for the numbers, one can prove just about anything with them. Sometimes, when I’m researching, I find wildly different figures from various sources about the same thing. Try it yourself and see!


About andreadurrheim

I'm an ex-horticulturist turned horticultural journalist turned radio broadcaster and general freelance writer. I'm hoping to promote my work through my blog and find out more about other writers too!
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