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Senior scene

May 7, 2011

As Time Goes By: You can't get the whole story by playing the percentages

I love statistics. I love percentages. With statistics and percentages you can lie like a champion and get away with it, because who will challenge you?

If you don't believe me, just look at any politician _ they all use statistics and percentages and get voted into office year after year because we all know that "Politicians NEVER lie." The problem with politicians and our government is we never get the WHOLE story so we never can tell when they are truthful or lying.

I can picture you right now, kicking back and saying to yourself, "Geerken is going after politicians again," but you would be only 99 percent correct. The other 1 percent is where I try to "love my politician," and if you believe this then the cracking noise you just heard as you read this was hell freezing over.

How many of you dear readers remember when Ivory soap was 99 and 44/100 percent pure? Did you ever wonder what was in the 56/100 percent that wasn't pure Ivory soap? Would you believe that it was "snips and snails and puppy dog tails?" What would you say if I told you that the 56/100 percent was ground glass or filler for a taco?

I liked Ivory soap because it floated _ a white rectangle in an otherwise inky black tub-full of luke-warm water. (The water was inky black because my brothers John and Richard hit the tub before me on Saturday night.)

I used to wonder about the sanity of someone famous saying that they would walk a mile for a cigarette. Talk about nicotine being addictive!

Remember when 9 out of 10 doctors smoked cigarettes? The whole story about those 9 doctors was that they also were dying from lung cancer. If you were the 1 doctor out of 9 who didn't smoke cigarettes, you were made to feel guilty for being healthy.

The joy of percentages is that you can make them seen very important. When you look at the statement "9 out of 10." it really carries not much of an impact, but look what happens if I tell you that 90 out of 100 doctors smoked cigarettes. It surely sounds impressive. What about 9,000 out of 10,000 doctors smoking cigarettes? This number is very impressive but it still is the same percentage _ 90 percent. No wonder it is always a long wait to see a doctor, they are all outside smoking a cigarette. (Cough, cough!)

Did you ever think about getting a good grade on a test? This usually meant that you passed the test.

For some tests this was scoring a 65 percent or better (65 out of 100). Did you ever think about the 35 percent that was considered not passing or "failing?"

Would that 35 percent failing have a bigger impact for you if you got on a plane and the pilot said "I want you to know that I was tested and I could successfully land this plane 65 percent of the time."

How about if you are going for a liver transplant and the doctor says as she is pulling on her gloves, "I'm successful in this operation two out of three times, and this is my third operation today."

Would you find any comfort in knowing that the first two operations that day were failures?

How would you feel as you started going "under" to hear your liver surgeon say, "Whoops"? (Better yet, at the end of the operation hear the surgeon say, "How come we have so many parts left over?")

Do you recall a number of years ago the presidential candidate said of his chosen running mate, "I stand behind this man 110 percent"?

A few days later some sordid details came to light and the running mate was dropped. If there ever was something that was a sure thing it should be being backed by 110 percent.

It is easy to forget that 110 percent of bologna is still nothing more than bologna. (A lot of it!)

If you are a gardener you have surely read seed packets that contain the words "Germination 97 percent." This means that if you plant 100 seeds, 97 will grow up to look like something on the cover of the seed packet.

See time on Page C3

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