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Musings, streams and flashes

Nov 1, 2007 12:00 AM

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I see more and more of phrases of this ilk cropping up: “A Google search on ‘direct mail’ gives 355 million results. Obviously you cannot afford to overlook such a hot market.”

We're supposed to conclude that this means direct mail is incredibly important because of all the search results.

I just did a Google search on “lima bean” and found 1.2 million+ results. In spite of this rock-hard statistic, I see very few successful eating establishments rushing to showcase the lima bean on their menu.

The moral: Take statistics with a grain of salt — especially when the statistic is utterly irrelevant.

It reminds me of the old maxim, “Don't worry about what people think. They don't do it very often.”

If recycled paper usage continues to increase at the current rate, the entire world will be overrun with trees by the year 2078, and there won't be any place left on the ground for people to stand.

Hard to believe? I hope so; I just made that one up. I followed another old maxim, “The more outrageous or stupid something sounds, the more believable it becomes to most people.”

  • “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics.” — Mark Twain

    Twain in turn attributed this one to Benjamin Disraeli. Ironic, as neither of these two gentlemen ever hesitated to maim or murder the facts to suit their purposes.

  • “Half the students in America today are below average.”

  • “Some people use statistics as a drunken man uses a lamppost — for support rather than for illumination.”

  • “Statistics: the only science that enables different experts using the same figures to draw different conclusions.” — Evan Esar

    For what it's worth, that one used to be posted on Google's own statistics site.

  • “Torture numbers, and they'll confess to anything.” — Gregg Easterbrook

  • “Statisticians are always tossing coins but do not own many.”

    A variation of this one: CEOs are not as clever as they think they are, but they are a lot richer than statisticians.

  • “There are two kinds of statistics: the kind you look up and the kind you make up.” — Rex Stout, creator of fictional detective Nero Wolf

  • “Statistics are like a bikini. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is essential.” — Aaron Levenstein

  • “A man may have six meals one day and none the next, making an average of three meals per day, but that is not a good way to live.” — Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis

  • “Statistics are no substitute for judgment.” — Henry Clay, U.S. Senator

  • “The lottery is a tax on people who are bad at math.” — James “Pate” Phillip, Illinois Senate president

  • “It is difficult to produce a TV documentary that is both incisive and probing when every 12 minutes one is interrupted by dancing rabbits singing about toilet paper.” — Rod Serling

  • Veteran sales rep Mike Kile recently opened his own AlphaGraphics in Carmel, IN. He took the time to send me this one:

    Q: What did the Buddhist monk say to the hot dog vendor?

    A: “Make me one with everything.”

  • “There are 10 types of people who understand binary. Those who do and those who don't.”

No matter what facts, figures, ratios and statistics you are presented with, make your business decisions by first weighing the figures. Once you've validated the fact, next be sure they are applicable to your business situation.

The alternative is the fate of one lemming, who turned to another and remarked, “The water we're all about to plunge into is an average of only three inches in depth.” Think about it.

Steve Johnson is president of Copresco (Carol Stream, IL), a pioneer in digital printing technology and print on demand. Contact him via