Know Your Sources

I received an email earlier this week from Jim Geurts titled 13 Stats to Convince Your Boss to Invest in Mobile in 2013. It was a great read – I’d highly encourage you to spend a few minutes with it. A sampling: 25.85% of all emails are opened on mobile phones, and 10.16% are opened on tablets.

The content was great. But what I appreciated even more were the sources. (The stat above comes from Knotice).

In the Digital Age, facts can lose context easily. And, with an ever-increasing supply of “fact,” there is danger in Googling for answers. The numbers that seem too good to be true? They can be just that.

If a number is important, follow it to its source. A recent non-marketing example drives the point home as clearly as any I’ve seen. It comes from an article in this month’s Atlantic titled How Long Can You Wait to Have a Baby?:

The widely cited statistic that one in three women ages 35 to 39 will not be pregnant after a year of trying, for instance, is based on an article published in 2004 in the journal Human Reproduction. Rarely mentioned is the source of the data: French birth records from 1670 to 1830. The chance of remaining childless—30 percent—was also calculated based on historical populations… In other words, millions of women are being told when to get pregnant based on statistics from a time before electricity, antibiotics, or fertility treatment.

It’s not a marketing example, but the author’s point can – and must – be applied to anyone seeking truth online these days: “Most people assume these numbers are based on large, well-conducted studies… but they are not.”

Know your numbers. But, as importantly, know your sources.

Interested in more stuff I find interesting? Follow me @casey_flanagan on Twitter.

Numbers Don’t Lie. Except When They Do.

85% of college graduates are returning home to live with their parents.

Eighty-five percent.

It’s hard to believe. But that statistic has been cited by The Huffington Post, CNN and Time Magazine. So it must be true.

Except that it’s not.

A recent segment on On The Media dissected the dissection of this stat. For anybody who lives in the world of secondary research, it’s worth the five minute and forty-six second listen. It’s a – scary – story of how a data point started at a now defunct company with a website that featured bios of people who never actually worked there and ended up as a top search result on Google.

We talk a lot about shifts in consumer culture. From an abundance of time and a scarcity of choice to just the opposite: An abundance of choice and a scarcity of time. It changes how people process information. Prioritize choices. And make decisions. But that phenomena does not end in the supermarket aisle. It manifests itself in cubicles, offices and conference rooms all around the country.

In an age of speed and search, fact checking and critical thinking are more important than ever before. And it’s always worth the time to take the extra step. Even if Time would suggest you don’t need to.

Interested in more stuff I find interesting? Follow me @casey_flanagan on Twitter.