Monday, February 28, 2011

Dammed Lies and Statistics, or, Context, Context, Context

"1 MILLION WORKERS. 90 MILLION iPHONES. 17 SUICIDES" screams the front cover of this month's Wired Turns out that there's this huge company called Foxconn that produces some huge chunk of the world's electronics. And 17 of their employees committed suicide. Now we're supposed to feel guilty that our insatiable desire for electronics drove them to death. There's only one problem with this story. Foxconn has one million employees. Seventeen out of a million is actually quite small. American college students are four times more likely to commit suicide. The non-sensational fact is that Foxconn is a better place to work than other Chinese factories (which is not saying much). Sure, some of the things which make Foxconn a better place to work were done in response to the public outcry caused by the suicides. But even before the suicides, it was better than the other factories. So leave Foxconn alone, and let them rake in the cash in peace.

The morals of this story are:
Without context, numbers mean nothing.
People do not know what a million is.


  1. story time: in middle school we took graphing paper and set out to fill our meager soccer field with 1 million of the little squares. It covered the entire place and then some. (It may be that I misremember the experience and what we covered was with only a portion of a million squares. But I'm pretty sure we reached it.)

  2. you might be interested in the conversation here:


    interesting discussion on this very topic, with facts figures charts and memes


Forth shall ye all hold.