Being Right Forfty Per Cent of the Time


One of my favourite Homerisms:

“Aw, people can come up with statistics to prove anything, Kent. Forfty percent of all people know that.”

Yes, forfty [sic]. In years to come, I’m sure we will hear about people studying the works of Matt Groening to figure out the deep philosophical meaning behind forfty. People do these things. Reminds me of the raging debate thirty years ago related to why Jim Morrison intoned the words Mr Mojo Risin at the end of LA Woman. There was wailing and gnashing of teeth. Much pontification. Theories to do with magic and sexual prowess and whatever. Until Jim’s childhood next-door neighbour wrote in and said “My husband used to call young James that. It’s an anagram of Jim Morrison”.

Incidentally, Groening is probably the most prolific living neologism-creator, following in the footsteps of Lewis Carroll, Ogden Nash and PG Wodehouse. There’s a good summary of his Homerisms in Wikipedia; sadly, unless we convince the powers-that-be otherwise, the summary is set for deletion. So read it while you can.

Incidentally, why do humourists and comedians dominate the neologism space? Perhaps you have to have a level of noncomformism and a willingness to be laughed at as well as with, that strange almost-vain vulnerability that all good comics have.

Back to the point of this post. Surveys and measurements. Would you believe that 100% of the readers of use Microsoft IE as their browser? Well, take a look at Don Marti’s post on the subject. In fact take a look at any of Don Marti’s posts, he’s usually worth it.

There’s a serious point here. We now use the web for all sorts of surveys and measurements and polls. Soon we will enter an age where serious companies make serious decisions based on the information. And they have no idea how flaky all this is. How rankings can be gamed. How readership and audience figures are weak at best and downright wrong at worst. Why a world of IP addresses and corporate proxies and RSS readers and aggregators lead to such weird results. Why location information and map-related mashups don’t always work.

Maybe it’s time to educate people about all this. Otherwise we will have a repeat of something that nearly killed me the first time around: the number of people who believe that Excel is industrial-strength. There’s a lot of them about. Still.

And maybe forfty per cent of them believe that Excel never lies.

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