Right and Wrong

The biggest lesson I've learned in 20 years as a journalist is how easy it is to get things wrong.

Take statistics, for example. Many agree with Mark Twain's statement that "there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics." But there are at least three things wrong with this notion.

First of all, when the author and humorist made that remark he was actually quoting someone else, the 19th century British empire builder Benjamin Disraeli, so the credit--or discredit--for making the observation doesn't really belong to Twain.

Whoever said it first, the second problem with the comment deals with logic--the question being whether a piece of data by itself can be true or false. As the National Rifle Association would argue, "Statistics don't lie, people do."

The third thing wrong with the Twain-Disraeli position is that it seems to argue that statistics are inherently misleading without acknowledging that they can also be extremely useful in getting at the truth.

For years the November Quality Progress has ranked as the issue readers say they find most useful, and I think the reason is fairly obvious: Each year it contains the findings of our annual salary survey. For most people, salary is an extremely vital statistic, and the QP survey provides some important clues about compensation trends in the quality profession. This year's survey results suggest, for example, that some of the hotter areas for quality include government, financial services and utilities (see page 22).

No matter how useful statistics prove to be, however, numbers by themselves never do tell the whole story. So don't expect this year's salary survey to provide a complete picture of how quality is changing. To understand fully the dynamics of the profession, one needs to supplement the kind of broad information that is provided in a survey with anecdotal evidence that deals with individual cases.

The idea of using individual stories to round out our understanding of where the profession is heading is what's behind The Face of Quality, a new feature that will appear each month as part of ASQ News (see page 12).

If there is someone you think should be included in a future installment of  The Face of Quality, please contact Associate Editor Sue Daniels. She can be reached at 800-248-1946, extension 7253, or by e-mail at sdaniels@asq.org.

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Miles Maguire

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