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Mark Nelson

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Lying With Statistics

July 16, 2010

At the World's Most Important Press Conference Ever, Engadget quoted Steve Jobs as saying:

This is hard data... the iPhone 4 drops less than one additional call per 100 than the 3GS. Less than one.

Let's say for the sake of argument that the iPhone 3GS drops one call in a thousand. Further, let's suppose that the iPhone 4 drops one call in a hundred. The quote would be completely true, and completely deceptive. It would imply that there was only a trivial difference in the rate of call drops, while concealing a 10X increase.

Obviously we can be as deceptive as we like by assuming that the iPhone 4 drops one call in one hundred, and the 3GS drops one call in X, where X can approach infinity. As X increases, the deception becomes more noteworthy.

The fact that Apple didn't say "The rate at which calls are dropped on the iPhone 4 is only X% larger than the same rate for the 3GS" tells me that they are lying with statistics. In the world of PR, I think it's safe to say that we find all players guilty until proven innocent.

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