Sunday, March 16, 2008

Horrendous journalism

From time to time I feel the urge to comment on journalism in India. Much of it is so horrendously awful (this is not to detract from the few journalists I know who (i) have brains (ii) know something (iii) can write well). I realise that my comments, liable to be blunt and unforgiving, could annoy people and also make me come across as a cranky old f**t. I'm happy to plead guilty to all that. Journalism governs so much of what we think, know or believe, that we must not let rubbish pass uncontested.

My nominee for horrendous article of the day: Ankur Gupta's column "Open Mind" in the Hindustan Times, titled "The 80/20 Principle". This is about the so-called Pareto Principle which supposedly states that "20 percent of something is always responsible for 80 percent of the results". Pareto himself only observed that 80 percent of wealth in Italy was owned by 20 percent of people, which sounds likely and presumably was backed by his own studies. But Mr Gupta goes on to generously (and with not a shred of evidence) apply this to things like "80 percent of your sales come from 20 percent of your clients". Digging himself in, he then suggests that "we wear 20 percent of our favoured clothes 80 percent of the time". And finally, now mired deeply in his nonsensical ideas, he delivers the punch line: "you can score 80 percent of your marks by answering just 20 percent of your question paper".

Really! And I thought the most you could get by answering 20 percent of a question paper is 20 percent marks! Silly me!

If the article could have gone on forever, one wonders what else the creative Mr Gupta might have concluded? That you can drive 80 percent of the distance on 20 percent of your fuel? Or have 80 percent of your baths using 20 percent of your soap?

Curiously in the very same issue of HT, Indrajit Hazra - whom I always enjoy reading and is occasionally very funny - lampoons fake statistics. I laughed out loud when I read his opening line "83 percent of Gujarati housewives do not know how to make passable dhoklas" - and then he gets funnier: "A worrying 8 percent of tampon-users in Tamil Nadu are not women"! So there are journalists who understand statistics cannot just be made up - I'm happy to know that.


Anindya said...

Hi. Nice blog. I must read both the HT articles now!


Good for nothing said...

Hii Sunil.. tantu jaal is very interesting name.. we should put it in paper sometime :) . Blog is intereting too, I will check out the article in HT.

Rahul Basu said...

My favourite statistic appearing in one of India Today's innumerable 'sex surveys' (I suspect they do it whenever they think their circulation is flagging...)

Only 27% of Indian women know what an orgasm is.

In the next box -- 47% of Indian women say they have multiple orgasms during sex.

Unknown said...

Hey i really agree with this edition of ur blog, i don't know is there any group or organization who is really tracking of all the wrong things published........

oook said...

He might have ended with 80% of journalists use only 20% of their brains.