Jach's personal blog

(Largely containing a mind-dump to myselves: past, present, and future)
Current favorite quote: "Supposedly smart people are weirdly ignorant of Bayes' Rule." William B Vogt, 2010

For rhetorical flair, use X in 10

Why is it that some studies report their percentages as "X in 10" vs. a simple percent? I'm almost certain it's for rhetoric. 40% is just a simple number, it feels uncertain (since uncertainty corresponds to probability), it can't hurt you... But when I mention that 4 out of 10 voting citizens in Delaware voted for Christine O'Donnell, now it's scary. "I know 10 people, I can think of them in my head, and I can picture 4 of them--that's a lot!--having such idiotic views."

Let's use Google:

4 in 10 say marriage is becoming obsolete. (That stat is what prompted this thought.) vs. 40% say marriage is becoming obsolete.

1 in 10 kids now affected (by ADHD) vs. 10% of kids have ADHD.

1 in 10 Latino high school dropouts earn GED vs. 10% of dropouts earn GED.

More than 1 in 10 Mozilla bugfinders turn down cash.

1 in 10 children in juvenile facilities report sexual abuse.

Nearly 6 in 10 back Arizona Immigration Law.

And on and on... But actually looking at these, I'm not sure what to think anymore. Is "1 in 10" supposed to be reassuring or alarming? After all, it is 10%, which is huge. In the end I suppose the usage is consistently alarming. You can all think of 1 in 10 people, it's hard to visualize 10% of something. If 1 in 10 Latinos earn their GED, 9 in 10 don't, so Latinos must be dumb/lazy/etc.! The Mozilla stat is interesting, since it's almost employing a double-negative form... What's wrong with these people not accepting cash offers? Perhaps the rhetorical flair works for surprise more-so than alarm, or maybe in conjunction. I'm alarmed at the 6-in-10 statistic, though I'm just surprised at the Mozilla stat.

Let's look at a few percentages:

9.6% unemployment rate, what would be achieved if we started saying "1 in 10 unemployed"? It sounds more alarming, why isn't it used?

"Only 4 percent of adults who use the internet also use mobile apps to share their location and activities with their friends, according to the report." So we say less than 1 in 10 use mobile apps, that sounds surprising? So why isn't it used?

Over 30% of the US doesn't use the internet. 3 in 10 sounds a lot scarier.

79% believe internet is a fundamental right. 8 in 10 makes it sound like almost everyone wants it, kind of surprising.

Anyway, just a little thought. "X in 10" form seems much more suitable to surprise and fear than harmless little percentages, don't you think?

Posted on 2010-11-20 by Jach

Tags: thought


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