Numbers: Are They Liars?


Sigh, well I suppose I need to expand on that, don’t I? Here goes:

Some of you have read previous posts from this blog where I point out that people use numbers mainly to their own advantage. They misinterpret numbers, sometimes out of ignorance, but other times out of sheer self-interest. Sometimes, people get excited when they see numbers they like, not realizing the numbers don’t necessarily mean anything. Other people will take numbers and “massage” them until they look “good.”

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that I’ve written next to nothing in 2014. This will be only my second post for 2014. Yet my blog readership numbers are quite high.

If I were going to let this go to my head or to use these numbers to promote my blog or my business, I could come up with all sorts of reasons why the numbers are high:

  • The blog’s readership is up. It’s because people just love my company and my blog. They’re flocking in record numbers to read about my great expertise. Obviously, they see me the THE industry thought leader.
  • I can tell from the constant spikes and overall rise in readership that this will be the best year that GeoMetrick Enterprises has ever had. It must mean that everyone is desperately trying to find out what GeoMetrick Enterprises can do for them. So, if you’re interested in using my services, this year, you’d better call RIGHT NOW before there’s nothing left for you.
  • The high blog readership numbers clearly shows that GeoMetrick Enterprises is #1 in LIMS!

While these statements sound ridiculous the way I’ve stated them, they’re not that far off some of the statements we read about the companies in our industry. My point is that we read statements like these so often but the truth behind the numbers is probably more pedestrian. As for the rise in this blog’s readership and the frequent high spikes, I don’t happen to know for certain that they mean any particular thing, but my speculations on what they probably mean don’t tend to be quite as exciting or self-promotional as the ridiculous statements I used as examples in the bullet points.

Bottom Line: I’m not going to turn my numbers into liars. I’m not going to back them into a corner until they squeal for mercy and give me answers that paint some kind of rosy picture. Instead, I’ll give them a little peace and quiet. My numbers might not be the most interesting numbers, but they’re still true and unvarnished if I leave them be.

Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises

3 responses on “Numbers: Are They Liars?

  1. Very interesting commentary. I do check your blog daily and a few other LIMS blogs. In fact I make a daily round to look for news and interesting information. I personally read almost continuously and write almost continuously. It really is my job within my company.

    As for numbers, I am swamped with numbers daily as a result of reading so many things. I have long stopped bothering with press release junk where companies say they are biggest, best and number 1. It is all spin and no one falls for it. This is one of the reasons I started the LIMSwiki. It has a community of writers who research and publish with citation, the facts about our industry.

    Our industry is HUGE, HUGE, HUGE. It has over 1000 software vendors that make up the whole of LI. This is very much at odds with conventional wisdom. There are LIS companies that have more annual revenue by themselves than the top 40 LIMS vendors combined. The industry is in a constant state of recalibration. The healthcare industry for LI is a multibillion dollar market. There are tons of great players in that market. With such a dynamic, large market, there is no room or time for spin. No one really dominates anything. No one is number one at anything for any length of time.

    Conclusion…. forget the numbers and get on with the work at hand and just serve customers. The numbers will take care of themselves and they will change on a daily basis. Customers cannot go by the numbers because there are too many dimensions to comprehend reasonably and the very, very few customers who insist upon being driven by spin numbers are soooooo tiny and few that they are statistically insignificant.

  2. I agree with your comments about numbers. Also, I would say that those of us in the industry usually fall into one of two categories:
    1. Those who are convinced their numbers mean something (surprisingly, not only the marketing and sales people).
    2. The rest of us (who know that the numbers don’t mean anything).

    But for the customers, it is not easy to ignore the numbers. Some customers have dealt with the industry and are pretty savvy, but others are just getting their feet wet with all of this. Many times, I will tell customers new to our industry to ignore all the marketing they read, but their response is that that is all they know — they don’t yet have the contacts and resources in-place to get any other kind of information. Additionally, while some of them see me as expert and take my advice, to yet others, I’m just one more person person giving them “noise” that they have to sort through. After all, if they’ve just met me and know nothing about me, my word is no better to them that what they might read.

    So, I hope that some new person will run into information like this. It might not convince them to be ignore the numbers but, at the least, I hope it will cause them to be skeptical of them.

  3. All of that is precisely why I started the site. I have an independent freelance writer (Shawn Douglas) who is not in our industry (therefore not biased stake) manage the site. I have set the basic policy which is to not post anything that cannot be cited. It is as unbiased and purely factual as we can get it. No advertising or promotion takes place on the site. It is our hope to have a completed set of facts about each software product listed without any of the spin. In fact, I generally direct customers more to that site than I do to our own website. I find that clients really just want facts and not spin so being a good service provider, what you should do is give the customer what they want, not what you want.

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