If you can’t find the statistics you want, then just make them up

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported on America's Newest Profession: Bloggers for Hire and included this handy little chart:

Comparing Job Numbers in America
Lawyers 555,770
Bloggers 452,000
Computer Programmers 394,710
CEOs 299,160
Firefighters 289,710
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

I found this number hard to believe, so I followed the Source link to the information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. I found that, yup, in a May 2007 survey, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that there were indeed 555,770 lawyers, 394,710 computer programmers, 299,160 chief executives, and 289,710 fire fighters in the United States.

Bloggers? Didn't even make the list. The number 452,000 appears nowhere in the Bureau of Labor Statistics report.

If you can't find the statistics you want, then just make them up (but claim somebody else provided them).

(The comments on the article suggest that the number 452,000 was derived from a Technorati report that there were 20 million blogs, of which only 4.7 million have been active in the past four months. The number 20 million was then combined with a Technorati survey of active bloggers in which 2% of them self-reported blogging as their primary source of income.)

Pre-emptive snarky comment: "Microsoft's current advertising campaign uses made-up numbers."

Bonus statistics: The claim that "It takes about 100,000 unique visitors a month to generate an income of $75,000 a year" is a total misrepresentation of the Technorati report. Technorati said that the average annual income among people with 100,000 or more unique monthly visitors is $75,000. That's like seeing that the average salary for a professional baseball player is $3.1 million and concluding that once you reach the big leagues, you'll be pulling down $3.1 million, when in fact—as the new guy—you'll most likely be making the baseball minimum wage of $390,000.

Comments (22)
  1. Mark says:

    That’s attrocious journalism. The response from ‘Mark Penn’ at the bottom indicates that the data in the chart comes from actually three sources.

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics is one, as you mention, but the total blogging population apparently comes from ‘a research report from eMarketer’ and the 2% from the Technorati poll. For a start how do we even know if those two sources have the same definition of a blogger?

    The Technorati poll also was international (‘received 1,290 completed responses from 66 countries’), it is not clear whether the eMarketer one was too. If it wasn’t then you’re comparing statistics from two differenct populations, if it is international then the 452,000 figure is certainly an over estimation as it includes all international full-time bloggers.

    It’s like trying to claim that your indie film is more successful than a prime-time TV show because the film’s international DVD sales are more than the TV shows domestic viewing figures.


  2. kliu says:

    Furthermore, if they really wanted to go w/ the Technorati figures, they should have at least taken 2% of the 4.7 million active blogs instead of the 20 million total (since the 2% applies to active bloggers).

  3. James Schend says:

    "Blogging is my primary source of income" = "I got laid off 2 years ago, and I don’t do much but lounge on my sofa and eat Cheetos– oh I guess I wrote a blog post last week."

    I mean, yeah, there’s the blogs like BoingBoing and Neatorama that probably pull in a good salary for their owners, but that’s a pretty tiny minority.

    I also agree with Mark: Virtually everybody on the Internet is a blogger. Live accounts come with a blog, so do MySpace, Facebook, and LiveJournal. And Slashdot, for the geeky types. Arguably, Flickr and places like DeviantArt are blog sites. There’s no way that 2% of this group has blogging as their primary source of income.

  4. The Smurf says:

    "derived from a Technorati report that…"

    Then the rest of the numbers should have come from Technorati too. Numbers from two different sources don’t belong in the same chart.

  5. RobO says:

    The Dilbert from May 8, 2008  

    Dilbert: Studies have shown that accurate numbers aren’t any more usefule than the ones you make up.

    Question: How many Studies showed that?

    Dilbert: Eighty-seven


  6. Insert obligatory Disraeli quote <

  7. Falcon says:

    "People can come up with statistics to prove anything, forfty percent of people know that!"

  8. Aaargh! says:

    "People can come up with statistics to prove anything, forfty percent of people know that!"

    84% of all statistics are made up on the spot. Including this one.

  9. someone else says:

    73.94539590% of all statistics are unrealistically exact.

    120% of all statistics exaggerate greatly.

    36% of all statistics are consistent, while 81% aren’t.

  10. Jules says:

    There’s a thorough debunking of the 452,000 figure here: http://www.businessinsider.com/wsj-pro-blogger-stats-2009-4

  11. technorat says:

    One sentence that probably is not true but still unnerving: "At some point the value of the Huffington Post will no doubt pass the value of the Washington Post." I suppose the writer envisions the value of the Huffington Post going steadily up; as a reader of The Washington Post, seeing it get thinner and thinner, and familiar names disappear, I picture it happening otherwise.

    And to the extent the values converge it will have nothing to do with the bloggers, but rather that flight of advertising from print to the web.

  12. Kip Kniskern says:

    If blogs with 100k uniques make $75k, someone owes us a bunch of money!

  13. MadQ1 says:

    I learned very early on in my career never to trust any statistic I didn’t forge myself.

  14. steveg says:

    Screw the stats. Can someone teach me to play baseball?

  15. Anonymous says:

    I noticed the "bloggers" number has fewer significant digits than all the others…

  16. chrismcb says:

    @Anonymous, and you know that because?

  17. Lauren Smith says:

    Seriously, though. 390K as a minimum wage is nothing to shake a stick at.

  18. Dusty says:

    From the article:

    "…and Technorati states those who had 100,000 or more unique visitors the average income is $75,000".

    This statement does not imply a cause-effect realtionship ; that the bloggers are earning $75k because they get 100k unique visitors.  Why couldn’t it be the other way?  People who earn $75k and write blogs get 100,000 unique visitors.

  19. Who? says:

    @Lauren Smith

    It’s clearly something to swing a stick at.

  20. Jason says:

    75.3% of all statistics are made up on the spot.  They’re also 93.7% more believable if they include a decimal point.

  21. It is perhaps particularly unfortunate that a guy who runs a polling company, and advises politicians on polling, does not know what the phrase ‘or more’ means.

  22. Judah says:

    I’m with Lauren. I’ll take a $390k minimum wage! :-)

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