16 May 2010

104.9%

I sometimes find the use of statistics in newspapers (and elsewhere) troubling. Here is a headline from an article on page 1 of the Media Permata of 13 May 2010:This can be translated as "The rate of mobile phone use in Brunei is 104.9%".

104.9%? OK, so I know what it means: for every 100 people, there are 104.9 mobile phones, which means that some people have more than one. (Why people need more than one mobile phone beats me, but let's leave that one alone.)

What troubles me is this: suppose the usage was 40%. Then we might assume this meant that 4 out of every 10 people had a mobile phone; and we probably would not think it meant that 3 out of every 10 had one but some people had two. So at what point does the percentage figure change, to include the possibility of double ownership?

I do think that percentage figures over 100% are misleading.

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