Wednesday, December 10, 2008

data and perception

Figures don't lie, but liars figure.

I've always liked that expression, and it's a vital bit of wisdom. Raw data is rarely impervious to misinterpretation. Such misinterpretation is often willful, but innocent illusions are just as common.

Nowhere is misinterpretation easier and more common than in demographics. Demographic information is often talked about as if it contains undeniable truths. The reality is that nearly every demographic study raises more questions than it answers... which is why there's no substitute for intuitive wisdom. The decision-making process that any entertainment consumer goes through is usually too complex to be summarized in clearly-defined calculations and diagrams.

I point this out because there's a cultural attitude in the modern world that facts and figures are more insightful than human reasoning and intuition. This cultural pressure can sometimes lead to poor judgments. Great works come from human beings, nor from systems and processes.

Just for fun, take a look at these charts and try to discern a lesson or two from each. What can we learn from looking at the all-time US box office sales? Or what might be made of the discrepancies between the US box office and the UK box office.

I've argued before that film sales demonstrate that Americans favor entertainment which is open to all ages ("family" entertainment) and offers inspirational messages.

1 comment:

  1. brings to mind a great quote by Mark Twain "There are lies, &^%^&^ lies, and statistics" Basically implication based on other implication but rarely founded on truth. The numbers may be correct and not mean what we think they mean. If 15 randomly sampled people are stupid it doesn't mean all people are stupid, you could just have a bad sample, or it could mean that the people in the area or at the time you chose to sample are stupid. Etc... :)


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