We have been told that Popeye was “strong to the finish because he ate his spinach.”
In 1870, a scientist was said to have miscalculated the nutritious value of 100 milligrams of spinach. Instead of only 3.5 milligrams of iron, he noted 35. But even when we knew the truth, the Popeye people perpetuated the spinach myth.
Fake Economic Facts
Economist Tim Harford repeatedly heard that 65% of the occupations in 2032 will be new. Similarly, others said that 65% of today’s students will have new types of jobs. But when he compared employment figures from 2006 and 2016, his new job totals were close to 33%.
During a 2007 visit to the Zambian Central Statistical Office, economist Morten Jerven saw only three people calculating the GDP. To estimate national construction, they used cement purchases. For agricultural production, their source was crop forecasts for eight commodities. And, their retail, wholesale and transport growth rates came from past years.
Our Bottom Line: Misleading Statistics
The iron in spinach, jobs predictions and GDP calculations might sound convincing. Instead though, we could have a precise number masquerading as an accurate statistic.
Hearing precise numbers that appeal to us, perhaps we like to keep believing.
My sources and more: A perfect combination of fact and fun, this More or Less podcast reminded me that we should return to statistical myths. Also, fivethirtyeight is always good for statistical insight as are books from Morten Jerven and Charles Wheelan.