Facts or statistics?

I was listening to a Radio 4 programme yesterday (Friday 17 May) that I haven’t heard before, it was all about questioning the many statistics that fill our lives. Among the issues raised were statistics about crime, survey results about knowledge levels among children and economic figures. The conclusion was that you can really make statistics say whatever you want to just by how you cut the data or do the analysis. So it really is true to say there are lies, damn lies and statistics.

So, how do I keep that in mind but still reconcile it with my love for infographics as a method of communicating information?

Infographics work for me because they use facts but they do it in a lively and entertaining way rather than by using the traditional charts found in most businesses. Many people find statistics a really dull thing and we need to provide ways to make the numbers easier to understand. But these are not statistics for me, they are killer facts and stories. While some can deal with percentage points and Gantt charts most people will respond more positively to stories.

Storytelling is something that we learn as a child and stays with us for the rest of our lives. Whether that is talking to friends down the pub, sharing the latest updates with family members or posting what you are doing on Facebook – these are all forms of storytelling. They are interesting because people can relate to them, they are about feelings and responses and outcomes. For me, that is when infographics work when they take a lot of killer facts and turn them into an understandable story or narrative.

I know that statistics do play a part in modern life but they have been abused for so long by people trying to support a particular perspective that 85 per cent of people don’t trust statistics. That is also a problem. Statistics can be made up on the spot just as I did, but if spoken convincingly the figures will be believed. Back to that Radio 4 programme, all the people who had been using the statistics that were brought into question had done it convincingly. Statistics are a part of daily life but perhaps we have to find ways to make them less about the numbers and more about the stories.

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