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Beware the "Zombie Statistic"!

Categories : BusinessEntertainment

Zombie Statistics

Beware the “Zombie Statistic”, a statistic that stalks the public consciousness, is accepted as fact but is actually completely spurious. Every time a zombie statistic is laid to rest it seems to rise again.



The excellent Radio 4 programme ‘More or Less’, a must listen for anyone interested in topical statistics and analysis in the news (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qshd), has made it its mission to rid the earth of these zombie statistics.

This issue of Figure It Out will stand shoulder to shoulder with our analytical allies from “More or Less” and exterminate a few zombie statistics. We’ll also suggest some ways you can prevent yourself becoming a victim of these deadly stats!

Only 1 in 10 Americans has a valid passport

This is a perfect zombie statistic. A quick internet search shows it popping up all over the place, such as this Yahoo answers page:

http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20081006180459AAmVbMo

I myself have to admit to pedalling this zombie in the past and have heard others use it too. But has anyone ever checked this statistic’s validity?

US State Department Statistics seem to contradict this 1 in 10 claim:

http://travel.state.gov/passport/ppi/stats/stats_890.html

In 2012 there were 113,431,943 valid US passports in circulation. In the same year the US Census Bureau estimated the US population to be 313,900,000. This implies that 36% of Americans have a valid passport. Generous rounding makes that 4 in 10, not 1 in 10!

Be gone zombie!

There are more people alive today than have ever lived and died

This zombie statistic has risen to prominence as concerns have grown over the World’s increasing population.

However Radio 4’s More or Less team has proved this to be another case of a zombie statistic.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16870579

The World’s estimated current population is 7 billion people. Academics estimate that approximately 107 billion have lived and died since 50,000 BC, meaning that 15 times as many people have lived and died than are alive today.

For this statement ever to be true in the future there would need to be a spectacular increase in the World’s population. So, this statement is not currently true and likely never will be.
Another zombie down!

The NHS is the third biggest employer in the world

Another zombie statistic is that the NHS is the third biggest employer in the world.

http://mmitii.mattballantine.com/2013/09/11/lies-damned-lies-and-zombie-statistics/

This blogger speaks about meeting a woman at an NHS networking conference, who quoted the statistic to him.

In fact, as this BBC article unearths, the NHS is actually the fifth biggest employer in the World.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17429786



With the NHS undergoing dramatic restructuring and Chinese and Indian industry growing apace, we might see the NHS fall further down this list over the coming years.

Zombie destroyed.

One out of three women over the age of 35 will not have conceived after a year of trying

This BBC article highlights a really interesting zombie Statistic.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-24128176

Where did this statistic come from? Was it from recent medical data? Had there been groundbreaking research from notable academics?

After a little digging a psychologist from San Diego University discovered it’s true origins …

"The data on which that statistic is based is from 1700s France. They put together all these church birth records and then came up with these statistics about how likely it was [someone would] get pregnant after certain ages."

So this statistic was based on French birth records from the 1700s. Truly a zombie statistic!

How to protect you and your loved ones from this zombie threat

Whether it’s when talking with friends, reading a newspaper or in a professional capacity at work, it’s important to consider the statistics and evidence being presented.
 
The importance of robust analysis to support decision making can never be overstated. Protect your loved ones from zombies by using Business Analytics!
 
 
 

About the author

James Lally
James Lally
James Lally has 10 years experience in analytical consulting across a range of projects in the public and private sector. James spent the first part of his career in an internal business consulting and strategy group at Network Rail, working as an adviser to the Board and Executive Directors and leading on high profile projects to restructure the business, support executive decision-making and drive significant performance improvement. James now works as a Managing Consultant in Capgemini Consulting’s Business Analytics team. James leads the team’s Value Management service offerings and is also focussed on clients within the Utilities sector.

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