Numbers "R" Us (Fribble) July 10, 2000

Fribble Numbers “R” Us

By Edward G. Fisher
July 10, 2000

It amazes me how people shut off their brains when they see numbers that come from a machine.

The first time I became aware of this phenomenon was when I was in graduate school. I had been finding computer jobs wherever I could to make a few bucks. The punched card was king then — it was a long time ago. Another person was writing a program to make the computer spit out a report that was the same as the typewritten sheet he held in his hand. The "computer-generated" report was to be presented to some town's School Committee because "they will believe it if it comes from a computer."

Here's another one that recently came to my attention (I sort of collect them). On the page, there is a little counter that says "There are 564 days 17 minutes... until the end of the Clinton/Gore era." Politics aside, I ask you, "DUH, how many days till January? Less than 300, right?" But how many people look at this statistic and never think?

In the interest of giving equal time to all candidates, we go over to "The Bush Debate-Duck" counter calculates how long George W. Bush has managed to bob and weave away from debating Al Gore: 252 days 15 hours ..." DUHHH It's counting down. Unless I missed something it should be counting up.

Now should I look for the gaffes of the lesser candidates? Naah, let's give them a break.

How does this affect Fools? Bogus numbers are everywhere. They most commonly show up in the "We're number one" statements. "Number One Software Company" — Is that number one in revenue? Number of customers? Number of users where bigger customers supply more users? It usually works out that more than one company can claim to be Number One by some metric.

Don't even get me started on the word "benchmark."