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Introduction to "The Well-Chosen Average"

Scenario 1: The "Upper Class" Neighborhood

Lets say you’re looking to buy a new house in a nice neighborhood. While walking through your dream house the real-estate agent tells you that the average income in this neighborhood is $150,000 a year. You’re sold. You always wanted to live in a "upper class" neighborhood.

A month after you move in a neighbor brings over a petition opposing a proposed tax hike. After all she explains, the average income in this neighborhood is only $35,000 a year. You sign the petition (who wants higher taxes?), but are a little confused. Just last month you were told that the average income in this neighborhood was $150,000.

So who is lying? The scary thing is that no one is lying! At least, not outright. "Both those figures are legitimate averages, legally arrived at. Both represent the same data, the same people, the same incomes. All the same it is obvious that at least one of them must be so misleading as to rival an out-and-out lie." (Huff, p.28) The trick lies in the word "average." It can refer to three very different things. "Average" can refer to either a mean, median, or mode...


Copyright 2000, Wayne Pafko