Saturday, 25 October 2014

INTERNET LISTS DEBUNKED - Surprising Book Facts

The internet is full of lies and lists.  And lists of lies.

A pretty infographic showing with statistics to remind you how society is just getting stupider will always get a lot of reshares.  Maybe people are getting stupider, because they accept statistics on pretty infographics as true...


The infographic was created by Rob Brewer in in 2012, later realising the errors in the original he created a new one:

Since the new one are far less surprising and far less emotive than the original, guess which one still gets shared around?

Rob Brewer notes where the original statistics come from and why he now thinks they're dubious on the page above.  Here's an more detailed look at it from a link on his page.

The stats come from a speech given by Jenkins in 2003, so wherever possible, 2002 statistics are used below.  It's important to note that however accurate the statistics in the speech, the speech was to industry people about the industry.

High School Graduates.

Unfortunately 37% of these books will remain unread.  Or is it 57%?

Claim:
  • 37% of High School graduates never read another book in the rest of their lives.
Statistic:
  • 62.3% of  High School graduates had not read a book in the last 12 months.
The 62.3% comes from inverting the statistic 37.7% had read in the last 12 months (so is slightly problematic).  37% seems like a badly rounded and misquoted 37.7%, but could just be a coincidence.  But in the last 12 months not in the rest of their lives which are two very different claims.  It's difficult to say for sure with this one if two surveys with wildly different results or a mistakenly inverted result of the same (but misquoted) or similar survey.

Result:  False.


College Graduates.

You can have your boo and eat it, too.

Claim:
  • 42% of college grads never read another book after college.
Statistic:
  • 43.3% of college grads had not read a book in the previous 12 months (2002 survey).
Seems a close result, but again, note in the last 12 months not after they left college.  Previous results from the same survey were 74.6% (1992) and 82.1% (1982).  While it's sad to see the result dropping, unless most of the college students alive in 1992 and 1982 have died the "after they left college" claim is obviously not borne out by that survey.  It seems likely "last 12 months" results have been quoted as "after they left college"

Result:  False. 



Books Read to Completion

The modern bookshelf.

Claim:
  • 57% of new books are not read to completion
Statisitc:
  • Probably 5 - 23% of purchased new books aren't read.


It is estimated that 30 - 40% of books are returned to publishers and that 65 - 95% of those are pulped, which means 19.5 - 38% of all new books are pulped.  That leaves 5 - 23.5% of purchased new books unread.  Frankly, I think that's unbelievably high.  There are whole ranges of books that aren't meant to be read to completion: Cookbooks and DIY books, reference books, coffee table books, certain text books and certain religious texts. That leaves no rooms for the books started but found unreadable, unwanted gifts and  books people were just too lazy to finish.  So even 23.5% is an incredibly low number, and since we don't know why the books aren't being read, it says nothing about literacy.

Result:  Probably too low, but meaningless.

Visiting Book Stores

Some bookshops it's better not to visit.
Claim:
  • 70% of adults hadn't been into a bookshop in the last 5 years.

This is a number that can only be derived from surveying people, and those results can vary greatly depending on a number of factors.  I can't find any numbers on this one, so we'll allow that there may be some truth to it.  Although Amazon was founded in 1994 and was a success in 2002, it still wasn't big enough at that stage, I think, to explain this number.  However, it's not a useful number in the literacy discussion at all.  For the audience of the speech, it was important, as it talks about the importance - or lack of importance - of bookstores as a point of sale.  There are many other venues for buying or getting hold of books.  Buying them in department stores, borrowing them from libraries, sharing friend's copies, stealing from wizards' houses,   Where you get them says nothing about literacy.  I avoid clothes shops, I still wear clothes (mostly).  Personally, I visit bookshops whenever I get the chance.  I hardly ever buy anything and spent a long time after my degree in English Literature not reading - but still visiting book shops.  This is really a statistic to horrify people who love books and who can't walk past a bookshop.  Today, however, the truthiness of this statistic (whether real or not) has lead to bookshop closures...

Result:  Meaningless.



Book Buying & Reading

Children do the nouns and verbs, adults the adjectives and adverbs.

Claim:
  • 80% of families did not buy or read a book in the last year.

The use of "families" is weird.  It seems unlikely that no one in an entire family would read a book in 80% of families.  Breaking families down into individuals gives us some very different results:
  • 44% of US individuals had read a book in the previous 12 months (2002 survey)

Result:  False.


Reading & Empathy

The more books, the more empathy.

This one isn't statistic, but the hypothesis does exist and studies have been done.  However the studies and conclusions are questionable and are usually reported and rereported without being questioned at all.

Result:  Unproven.

Reading to be an "international expert"

This could be you!

Attributed to Earl Nightingale, a motivational speaker.  Motivational speakers are full of empty claims to motive people and the basic assumption behind this is clearly false.  If this is true instead of a 3 year degree you could just read 2 hrs 20 minutes a day for 3 years and not just reach degree level but become an international expert.

Result:  False.
~ DUG.


14 comments:

  1. Interesting counter argument. It still can be argued that people are not reading as much any more.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Before that can be argued, the proposition should state "...as much [as what/when]," not just "anymore."

      Delete
    2. The statistics agree in a number of those cases that people aren't reading as much, but not as little as the original post claimed. False stats are false stats.

      Delete
  2. There's a question on a survey fielded by the US Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics every few years, that amounts to "did anyone in your house take the child to a bookstore in the past month" (there is also a question about visiting a library in the past month) - however the question didn't appear on the 2002 survey. (2002 only had a question about libraries, at 44% visiting in the past month. And it is very carefully designed to be a nationally representative survey, and the question is worded for anyone in the house to take the kid to a library, thus getting at "family." There's also the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, last fielded in 2003, but I thinks that's more of how well a person reads, as opposed to what or how much they read.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah, you're fighting a (sadly) lost cause, I'm afraid.

      Delete
  4. And of course there is no such thing as "false facts."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Except of course... there is. The definition of "fact" includes: "a piece of information used as evidence or as part of a report or news article."

      Facts do not, in fact, need to be facts.

      Delete
  5. I find this obsession with 'books' to be almost fetishistic. I read mostly on a Kindle, and I'm sure many people read avidly online, without ever reading something they'd call 'a book' or even an ebook.
    Book snobbery discounts the many millions who dip into Wikipedia on a daily basis, read multiple blogs and/or read fiction online.
    I'm not telling book lovers to 'get with the 21st century' - books will be with us for many years yet, but I am saying to surveyors and academics generally "wake up and smell the coffee".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You think people don't count reading on their Kindle as reading books? Interesting. Possible, but I'm skeptical.

      Delete
    2. Reading a book requires a commitment of days or weeks, whereas short works online are often shallow and poorly written. Not the same.

      Delete
  6. I remember seeing a talk by the head of Tor books maybe 20 years ago in which he pointed out that the enormous spread of literacy generationally (he was particularly interested in children of mid-century immigrants to the US, who read a lot more than their parents) means a huge jump in readership overall.

    ReplyDelete