Incorrect Dataset — Distorted Analysis

by Krishna on March 25, 2007

Being in the information technology field sometimes divorces one from reality. A particular case is the extrapolation of results based on Internet audiences as compared to what is happening in the real world. This was brought into focus recently when I examined some of the details from my web analytics.

Logically progressing from available data, I could infer that:

  • Most people in the world live in the United States, Europe, India and Japan. Hardly anyone lives in Africa, South America, Australia and the former Soviet republics.
  • Most people in the world speak English. A few people talk Chinese, German, Italian and Spanish, but they are insignificant.
  • High-speed Internet connection is available to 75% of the population.
  • Almost an equal number of people use Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox. [Not true. Read here]
  • Nobody uses any search engine other than Google. Yahoo who? Live what? [Not true. Read here]

I am always amazed at the political polls on the Internet on various news websites. The Internet audience is fundamentally different from the actual voting public and the results of these polls are less than worthless — they totally distort the truth and serve no purpose other than to manipulate readers.

A big problem about the Internet is that people trust it too much. They are very likely to believe anything they read on the Internet without any further research or asking questions. How can one avoid this?

  1. Always look for the negative argument. If you read an article saying, “X did this”, then spend a few minutes searching for the opposite statement.
  2. Read both sides of the argument. For example, if you read something in the New York Times, read its counter-argument in the Wall Street Journal and vice versa.
  3. Get information from different sources — TV, newspapers, radio, books, magazines, authoritative sources, trusted friends, etc.
  4. Be a skeptic. As Carl Sagan said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

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