Want to explain some hard-to-grasp statistic? Compare it to something people already know.
The website Gawker has a item today called “How to create a shocking statistic.”
They point out a recent story in the LA Times which reported that each year more Americans now die due to prescription drug overdoses than from car crashes.
Gawker, incorrectly in our view, calls the comparison a “false statistical hook,” since they say there is no connection between the 37,485 people who died in 2009 (the most recent year where stats were available) from prescription overdoses and those who died in car wrecks.
The connection is that most people have some sense that a ton of people die from car crashes. They couldn’t give you a number — but they know it is a lot. So when you tell them that prescription drug overdose deaths outnumber that amount — they think to themselves: “Wow…that is a lot.” That was the impact the reporter was hoping to achieve.
You don’t have to use morbid statistics like deaths to make a point. Last week a news story compared the amount of rain that fell in the Northeast to how much water it would take to fill Yankee Stadium to the brim X thousand times.
We don’t know how much rain it would take to top off the stadium in the Bronx…but the image clearly evokes a sense of “Man, that is a lot of water.”
Just today, when describing the U.S. tax laws President Obama said that the tax code is over 10,000 pages long. Well, how big is that? He went on to say if you stacked up the regulations on the floor they would reach over five feet high. That is an image you can understand.
So if you are doing a media interview and need to convey a large numerical concept — find some unique and colorful way to express that figure by using a unit of measure that readers and viewers can get a grip on.
By the way, the 15-Seconds blog is coming up on its 500th post. These posts, if printed out and laid end to end, would be as long as the Washington Monument is tall.