Wednesday, May 22, 2013

1177 Anecdote City


1177 Anecdote City

There are some data worthy of ignoring.  Yes... even now when everything is measured and crunched and massaged and selectively ignored or selectively abhorred.

We all know not to fully trust figures on unemployment, likely voters’ choices of candidates, auto miles per gallon, the crime rate, the inflation rate, TV ratings and the stars awarded to restaurants, movies and hotels.

Wrap something in math and the math-phobic public assumes it’s true.

You knew that, right?

So what’s a trustworthy guide to a major purchase or a likely outcome or your chances of encountering bed bugs when you travel?  Why just ask your neighbors!

But wait.  Suppose your neighbor doesn’t have a car or a washing machine, doesn’t vote and brings his own sleeping bag to the Waldorf?

Why, you know that, too.  You consult a website with reviews.  The two majors these days are Angie’s List and Yelp.

Oh, the reliability!

These sites let you rate pretty much anything.

And often, you can tell when a review is worth reading.  “Martin Feinberg has been my dentist for 30 years and I swear by him.”  The guy may be down to two teeth.

“I spent the night at the Shady Grove Motel and when I awoke, I had no bug bites.”

“I went to Madam Lazonga’s Massage Parlor and all I got was a massage.”

“I just bought a Kenmore Elite washing machine.  It’s going to look great in my front yard alongside the 1973 Plymouth and the 1948 International Harvester truck already on blocks there.”

Negative reviews are almost always more instructive than positive ones.  “My Stauer watch broke after 18 months, and they replaced it ‘as a courtesy.’  The replacement broke in three weeks.”

“I had to return my Sham-Wows because they were a sham and wow, wouldn’t absorb the motor oil on my kitchen floor.”  A little literary charm there, but how’d that motor oil get in your kitchen?

The ones you can trust start with phrases like “Joe the plumber made my sink leak worse.”

You can’t trust the ones that start “I just felt a great sigh of relief when Mister Driveway finished sealing mine.  It just sparkles!” driveways are not supposed to sparkle.

So in a world of Big Data, we still rely on strangers to tell us how to pick a guy to clean the leaves out of a drainpipe.

The problem with trying to turn anecdotes into math?  No standards.


Shrapnel:  

--This space long has said that if your job description includes having someone apply makeup to your face, you are an actor and goes especially for TV news types.  In fact, one of the lost Stanislavski chapters teaches how to cry on command.  Especially good for reporters in Oklahoma and Maricopa County AZ these days.

--Speaking of TV, did you notice that as soon as departing NBC News pres Steve Capus had the stuff in his office packed, his successors at Con-Cast cancelled that Brian Williams Friday night magazine show?  Brian’s still has his day job, Nightly News.  But what about the hirelings like Harry Smith, Ted Koppel and Chelsea Clinton, who were “contributors,” which means... what?

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2013

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