Invasion of the Bread Eaters

with Dr David Whitten

There are three kinds of lies; lies, damned lies, and statistics.
Benjamin Disraeli

By the age of 26, I had an economics degree under my belt, and had worked in several fields. I had been a corporate takeover strategist, a piano salesman, an actor and a television news cameraman. My range of experience was diverse, or, in other words, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life.

Shortly before venturing into medicine, a friend of mine told me his father, a successful audio cassette manufacturer, was looking for someone to conduct market research on a potential new product line.

I knew I had little experience in this area, and, perhaps a little optimistically, I reassured my friend's father that I was the man for the job.

I then proceeded to design and execute the research required.

After three months of design, field testing and analysis, I presented the results of my market research to the manufacturer. I made my assertions, and tried to back them with detailed statistics.

Although I felt I was on the right path, I knew I was a little out of my depth. My friend's father also picked up on this fact and seemed less than impressed with my presentation.

Towards the end of my report, I stated: "So, in conclusion, the average purchaser of your new brand of cassette tape would be male. His average age would be 23. The average price he would be prepared to spend per cassette would be $4.45. The average number of cassettes he would buy at a time would be 2.6. The average..."

The manufacturer stopped me at that point. "David," he said, "let me tell you something about the statistical validity of averages."

I waited, for what seemed like an eternity. The manufacturer then continued: "David," he said, "the average Australian has one tit, and one ball."

I nodded, again for what seemed like an eternity. He reached for my report, which I handed to him. I realised the meeting was over and I left.

While I never again ventured into the world of market research, I must say I have always retained an interest in statistical analyses, and the validity of the interpretations that are drawn from them.

In this context, I received an e-mail last week, which I present below.

It was titled "The Dangers of Bread."

- Australian Doctor's Weekly © 2002. Reproduced with permission.

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