Mark Goldberg


www.mhgoldberg.com





Always checking the math

If you can’t trust the data in a simple Thanksgiving tweet by Statistics Canada, whose data can you trust?

Nobody.

I always look at numbers with a critical eye.

Yesterday, in a tweet taken down this morning, Canada’s official government statistical agency wished its followers a Happy Thanksgiving and included some “fun facts” about turkeys.
StatCan_eng 20201012

Only thing is, the numbers in the Tweet weren’t correct. The production figure of 165.17 tonnes is off by three orders of magnitude. It should have been 165,170 tonnes. That is an awfully big difference.

The source data appears to be from a Statistics Canada table entitled “Production, disposition and farm value of poultry meat (x 1,000)”. Apparently, that paranthetic notation in the title was missed by the graphic production team and the error slipped through whatever review processes are in place for government social media accounts.

But in the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday, let’s be thankful for this teaching opportunity. It provides an opportunity to reiterate a the importance of taking a careful look at the data, before you gobble up erroneous factoids.

As I wrote a few months ago, “It’s very easy to look at a chart on social media, nod one’s head, and retweet or reply without bothering to look beyond the headline.”

Always, always, always, look at the source data, regardless of the source of the data.

Even government statistical agencies can make mistakes.

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