Innumeracy and the power of choice

This video about income distribution in the USA is extraordinary. First, because it's so well produced, well researched and calm. Second, because it does a beautiful job of making statistics come to life. There's a story behind the numbers, and the producers bring the story to life.

There are two lessons to be learned about communicating about (as opposed to with) numbers here:

  1. As the data from the Harvard study shows, people are incredibly, almost willfully, bad at visualizing and understanding anything beyond really simple distributions.
  2. Giving people the appearance of choice, "if you could organize this, how would you," is a significantly better question than, "what's fair?" By reminding people that they actually do have a voice, you open the discussion wider.

If you agree or disagree with the 92% of the sample that is quoted in the video, my point is still the same: presenting information in this way, in a way that allows people to hear and see and think, is one of the most powerful tools available to people who'd like to make change. It's far more powerful than yelling.