Thursday, February 2, 2012

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

Yesterday was my 1000 post, according to Blogger which keeps track of such things.  The little map I have on my blog site to the right and about half way down says I have had 46,729 hits since I started.  Since it seems to count whenever I go there too, I would round it back to about 45,000 hits and call it good.  Monthly hits look like this:


I have 40 admitted followers. Readership is steadily increasing and the number of countries astounds me.  I didn't save the January stats yesterday but think there were at least 50 countries, most with one to three hits but several with 20 to 50. 

Which brings up the subject of statistics and its uses.  I am NOT a statistician, I am an analyst (self-taught).  We had a statistics department when I was with Saskatchewan Agriculture.  Statisticians make me mental.  They are so precise, worse than accountants.  Accuracy and consistency are paramount.  Even if the numbers are not 100% (e.g. GDP or July 1 Cattle on Farms), the methodology must be explicable and consistent. And it is a good thing it is so.

Their job was to provide as accurate data as possible to the likes of me.  My job was to squeeze management information out of it.  Stuff you could make decisions from.  About and approximately were good enough.  So I would round it, massage it, reorganize it sixteen ways to breakfast to see what I could learn or to demonstrate a point or substantiate a policy position.

Statistics don't lie IF they are honestly gathered and tabulated.  To me, anything less than that is unethical and unprofessional on the part of the statistician.  It is what is done with them that makes the difference.  The analysis, the spin, the presentation, what is left in or left out, the conclusions drawn.

Just a simple example.  I could have divided the monthly hits by the number of days and got daily hits.  I could have looked at seasonal variations and blog posts per month variations.  I could have (if I had saved each months detailed stats) reworked the data excluding hits from countries with less than 10 hits. Or just looked at Canada and USA or even just Canada.  What might I have learned?  I don't know.  Maybe that increased readership in America accounts for the majority of the total increase.  What would that mean?  Darned if I know.

Look at the chart again.  The X axis is perfectly horizontal and the Y axis at perfect right angles to it, so the slope on the line is truly as it appears.  I could have (if I knew how) sloped the X axis upwards somewhat, keeping the Y axis perfectly vertical, changing the perspective from which you view the chart.  The information on the chart would still be perfectly accurate BUT the slope of the data line would appear steeper than it actually is.  The impression left with the viewer is that the number of hits is rising much faster than it actually is, unless the viewer takes time to read the chart carefully.

But any and all of this is only possible if the original statistics are accurate to start with.

14 comments:

  1. I know the statistics are weird... my members roll keeps going away... coming back .. different numbers... I'm about to take it off... distracting.

    Go to your stats tab under Design and click on - Don't track your own pageviews -

    My blog lies to me on occasion - especially updating the blogs I follow!

    I dunno ... I just enjoy getting stuff off my chest... always fascinates me when someone actually reads my stuff. ;)

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  2. Done, thanks. I have had trouble with blogs I follow, too. Sometimes have to go back two or three times to get it right. And then remember to change it on the Blog site as well as the dashboard.

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  3. There are lies, damned lies, and statistics, but you forgot the terminological inexactitudes. (Don't forget Churchill, eh.)

    That aside, congratulations on 1,000 posts. Should be enough to fence a half-section.

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    1. Including enough for a gate, double posts and brace posts on corners and other critical spots.

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  4. Congratulations on 1000 posts. I see I am at 352. I slowed down later in 2011 but will try to get back at it.

    Statistics really can show what ever you want. I had an engineering professor in talking about average statistics who used to say "you can have your head in the freezer and feet in the oven and say your average temperature is just right." I saw another amusing use of average statistics that the Vatican has an average of 2 popes per square kilometer.

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    1. Two popes per square mile? Awesome. A useful number if ever.
      The whole world wasn't big enough for two popes (One in France and one in Rome) back in the day.

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  5. Reason we come here? We find this place far more interesting than watching paint dry. :-)

    Like your award at the top. I have a plaque on my desk that says "Work promised for today will be ready tomorrow...maybe." A type of procrastinators' award.

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    1. Thanks, Demeur. I never know what I will say next.

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  6. I don't want to rain on your statistics, but does the counter distinguish between bots and actual visitors? The reason I ask is because I have a very detailed stat counter Wordpress plugin that does distinguish among various kinds of hits. Google and other search engines have bots coming by multiple times a day, scanning a month's worth of posts or more for changes at a clip. All sorts of other bots come by, including damned spam bots. And, whenever someone whose page is linked to Oh!pinion goes online, that registers too.

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    1. I don't know. Blogger tracks page views and which posts are viewed by day, week or month. ClustrMaps track hits. Maybe both include bots. I have no idea about page links, what they are or how it happens.

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    2. Your blog is on my blogroll. When I open my blog, the link to your blog could register as a hit on your blog, whether I go to your blog or not. I don't know for sure that it does, register, that way. The hell of it is, these stat counters typically aren't documented well if at all. That makes them mostly good for getting a rough idea of how you're doing, and making it possible to spot trends.

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    3. Your blog is listed under blogs I follow on my dashboard , so if I open my blog does it count on yours? I can't see that as your blog is also listed on my blog page so every time someone opened my blog page it would count all blogs I follow? That doesn't make sense.
      When I check on the list of locations of the last 10 people on my blog, waaaay down at the bottom of the page, I can account for enough of them that I am comfortable with the stats as you say as rough estimates.

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  7. You did research on stats, I did some on anniversaries. Congratulations on your millenial blog. I was hoping to find what the appropriate gift is for such a big number (like paper, crystal and so on wedding anniversaries). There's no recommended gift-seems most marriages break up before they reach their millennial. Thanks for the blog-I particularly like hearing about life in Ukraine (along with the pictures).

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