Pitching Statistics

Blenderlaw takes aim at misleading advertising for 5 Hour Energy. The ads, it says, throw around numbers that are designed to mislead without outright lying:

The latest … begins with the statement that they asked over 3000 doctors to review 5 hour energy. … And the ad does not state how many doctors actually reviewed the product. … But the ad then goes on to use the 3000 number again at the end (ask your doctor, we already asked 3000), reinforcing the impression that lots of doctors approved of the product.

False advertising? Probably not under current law since it’s not actually false. Blenderlaw isn’t satisfied:

This sort of carefully constructed message, designed to give a very different impression from the one that the actual words used, carefully parsed, give should, I think, be treated as problematic in law.

I don’t know if algebra should still be required in high school, but I sure wish we taught some basic statistics to every high school student. This might, maybe, help arm citizens against the advertising fast shuffle. Actually, I think the worst offenders are not sleazy food supplement vendors, but politicians and advocacy groups. Maybe if the population were better trained at parsing claims about percentage changes, artful baselines, and especially real vs. nominal values, we might get a tiny bit more substance into our politics. Maybe.

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