The title is somewhat borrowed from a recent TV series by Prof Hans Rosling, the swedish master statician, and someone I imitated poorly in a couple of recent presentations we have done on the LfI project. One of which you can now see on the Steeple website – the other was at the Diverse 2011 conference in Dublin (the recording of which isn’t yet available).
However, another article has appeared today that contains some germane points when it comes to looking at numbers and the trend to try and make stories from them. Michael Blastland writing in the BBC News Magazine has these points to make (amongst others, I recommend reading the entire article):
There’s danger as well as genius in the ease with which people construct graceful narrative arcs from any two things that grab their attention, like tennis on telly and the business bottom line.
We find this happens all to easily when we look at some of our graphs and the desire to explain them overwhelms the actual information available. Also…
Doing good stats means exercising a pathological interest in the story that might have been missed. Doing politics can seem to mean a near pathological interest in telling us why your story was right all along.
It’s a simple trap to fall into, especially if you’re under pressure to justify your performance under whatever measures you can. As is often the case, stats and numbers in general can be open to a wide degree of interpretation when the actual understanding of their origin and their derivation isn’t understood by those discussing them.