Figures Lie, Liars Figure – Part 3 of 3

Figures Lie, Liars Figure – Part 3 of 3

Statistics are no substitute for judgment. – Henry Clay

All three of the statistical claims bullet-pointed below were used in a lecture about how video production – online in particular – leads to increased sales. All three are false.

☞ “Visuals are processed 60,000 times faster in the brain than text
☞ “40% of people respond better to visual information
☞ “Video is 50x more likely to appear on page 1 of Google rankings”

Further, these claims were, and are, endlessly promulgated by myriad regurgitaters, aggregators and bloggers. According to Google, the first statistic has been repeated 96,800 results (1,080 when in quotes); the second yields a whooping ~38,800,000 repeats (although we get a highly respectable 4 results when we put the second phrase in quotes). The last quote (#3 above), yields 4,530,000 hits.

Of all these statistical falsehoods, only one has been qualified by its author. One would hope to more often meet honest and conscientious people like Nate Elliot, the blogger who appears to be a primary source for this statistic. Nate is the one of the few journalists that I have ever run into (including major publications) who has taken the time to revisit his/her own work, and add an update. Mr. Elliot, if you please:

“[UPDATE, 8 AUGUST 2012: As much as I appreciate seeing this research continue to circulate online, I’d like to note that these findings are now almost 4 years old, and are almost certainly no longer accurate. Just as you wouldn’t rely upon Nielsen ratings from January 2009 to tell you what’s popular on TV today, nor can the data below tell you how Google is handling search results today.]”

As I am posting in 2015, the information is now 6-years past its expiration date. What a world it would be, if everyone were as considerate as Nate, and add an addendum, preface or update to their work!

But it is beyond Nate’s control, beyond mine or yours to rein-in out-of-date information. The very nature of the internet makes that impossible. And of course, there are people online, as in real life, who make millions of dollars though deliberate deception (Ex: The Dark Lord of the Internet – Atlantic Monthly)!

My point in writing about statistics in this series is not to undermine the efforts of empirical science, but to demonstrate that the many quotes used to support sales claims are (and forever have been) either made-up (completely false) or are unprovable or invalid: conjectures very loosely based on research. Snake oil and aphrodisiacs have always been available for shekels, dollars and yuan … for thousands of years … didn’t work then, don’t work now (although placebo research is fascinating!).

It is the very purpose of science to to create an original hypothesis, find data and arguments to prove/disprove it, and invite others to argue for and against the proposition, in the pursuit of greater truths and understanding. It is in the very nature of sales to gain an advantage. When it comes to statistics on the internet, caveat emptor (let the buyer beware).

More to come.
©Craig Sinard 2015. Quotation welcome with linked attribution.

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