Damned statistics

It seems that the facts of what happened depends on who you choose to tell you about them.

I typically check the CBC News site for the medal standings during the Olympics. Here are the final standings according to a screen capture I just made:

The official site at sochi2014.com tells a similar story:

But NBC has a different story to tell:

The source data is the same, but the presentation gives a different standing.

It’s interesting. I had a further look around and every site based in the United States ranks the medal standings on the total number of medals earned, giving themselves a better finishing position. Every site based in the United States, that is, save one. The exception is the Associated Press. Everywhere else in the world, gold medals determine the standings, with the silver and bronze used as tie-breakers. Each has advantages and disadvantages, and neither is right or wrong, but I look forward to the day when sorting by the total number of medals gives the United States a worse position in the standings. What will the American media do then? Do I really need to ask?

For the record, these were the sites I found that sorted the standings as NBC did: CBS News, the Chicago Tribune, CNN, ESPN, Fox News, the Huffington Post (including the Canadian site), the NY Times, Sports illustrated, USA today, and the Washington Post.

This hearkens back to the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Donovan Bailey won the gold medal for the 100 metre race with a world record time of 9.84 seconds. The US media traditionally referred to the winner of the 100 metre race as the world’s fastest man. But Bailey is a Canadian! Can’t have that, right? Happily, Michael Johnson won the gold medal for the 200 metre race, and he is American, so the US media called him the worlds fastest man.

Being the country next door gives us remarkably easy access to American media, so this uniquely sorted medal standing is nothing new, but it does allow another insight into the American mind.

2 thoughts to “Damned statistics”

  1. I deal with this CONSTANTLY at work, and it is infuriating! Sure, maybe what you’ve done with those numbers is mathematically correct. However, industry standards, basic statistical knowledge, and ethics says that you have skewed your data to read the way you want it to (I.e. Whatever way will make you look like less of a f**k up). There’s a certain sickness that goes with that mindset.

    1. Sickness is a good description. Crap like this almost always comes out, so why bother? Besides, it’s not that big a deal, really.

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