Innumeracy watch, Mark Penn edition

By Felix Salmon
April 23, 2009

Mark Penn wrote a very silly column on blogging for the WSJ. He should have left it at that. But no, he had to go and try and defend himself. Which is how he ends up justifying this:

It takes about 100,000 unique visitors a month to generate an income of $75,000 a year

With this:

As far as the $75,000, the Technorati report says that of those bloggers who had 100,000 or more unique visitors, the average income is $75,000. True, it’s not the median, but it is the average.

Now if say a high-schooler or even a first-year undergrad made this mistake, one might be able to bemoan the state of the US educational system, rather than the innumeracy of the individual in question. But if Mark Penn, who has dealt with numbers and statistics his entire professional life and been paid millions of dollars to do so, makes this mistake, then we are probably all doomed.

Even more depressing, in many ways, is the cute little distinction Penn insists on making between the median and the average, for all the world as though he understands basic statistics. Of course he doesn’t: the average income for bloggers who have more than 100,000 unique visitors is going to be skewed towards the income of bloggers with millions of unique visitors, however you slice it.

But in any case, the world has moved on: in my anecdotal experience, the hot new route for anybody who wants to make enough-to-live-on money from their blog is to do so by trying to turn it into a book, rather than by selling advertising on the blog itself. It’s taken a while, but everybody from Christian Lander to Barry Ritholtz is bookifying, these days, with no little success; I think that the amount of time between Postcards from Yo Momma launching and it getting a book deal can probably be measured in nanoseconds.

The blog-to-book trend may or may not last, of course, but Mark Penn will always be innumerate. Maybe that’s the real reason why Hillary lost.


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Felix, why are you surprised? Penn is a political consultant, whose job requires him to completely misrepresent statistics whenever the situation requires it.

Posted by KenG | Report as abusive

Some potted history.

Way back in 2004 there was a recall election in Venezuela. As the polls closed, all exit pollsters pointed to a Ch├ívez win. All except for one that goes by the Name of Penn Schoen. Yep…same Penn (we are not talking Sean here, Salmon).

Ever since then (with the help of some dubious statistical work by a Venezuelan guy with a chip on his shoulder named Hausmann that was later proven false by an independent commission) US media uses that ridiculous Penn Schoen exit poll to suggest that the recall election was a fix.

This is not a coincidence.

Posted by otto | Report as abusive

Given the constant displays of breathtaking ignorance displayed by Mr Salmon since he began his attempt to take Reuters downmarket and trash a once-respected brand, this is a severe and disgraceful case of the pot calling the kettle black.

How long before Reuters realise the damage that Mr Salmon’s disgraceful attitude towards work is doing to their brand?

Posted by Ian Kemmish | Report as abusive