Fun With Stats, Or Damn, That's A Lot Of Lost Phones

from the doesn't-add-up dept

Statistics can be tricky, no doubt about that. They’ve tripped up many a journalist, and given that, you’d imagine that writers would be pretty careful to thoroughly check out the numbers they cite, but no. A column today from an “award-winning” UPI columnist makes the bold claim that 65 percent of Americans lost their mobile phones last year, and it cost $600 million to replace them. Wow, that’s pretty amazing — if only it were true. You see, only about 70% of Americans own cell phones, according to trade-body statistics. So if the author’s figures were right, that would mean more than 90 percent of cell-phone users, or 187 million people, lost and had to replace their phones in 2005. That sounds great, except when you consider that just 105 million or so cell phones were sold in the country during the year. And if that $600 million figure were accurate, it would mean the “cost” of replacing all those handsets would be an average of $3.20 each, which doesn’t make too much sense. To make it even better, while trying to do some mobile virus scare-mongering (when there’s really nothing to worry about), he mentions “the 45 percent of mobile phone owners who don’t lose their phones on an annual basis” — a figure that doesn’t jibe with anything else he cites at all. So while wild claims and bogus statistics might make for an exciting lead, readers probably deserve a little more fact-checking.

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Comments on “Fun With Stats, Or Damn, That's A Lot Of Lost Phones”

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telecom rep says:

brewing hostility over replacement phone costs

I work for a major telecom, and i don’t use a cellphone cuz the services and devices are way overpriced for the services you get.

Replacement phones are a bitter subject for customers. They don’t realize those handsets are expensive with their little chipsets and screens, and their cost is subsidized by the contract length. Lose your phone and you’ll pay full retail price for a replacement (read: hundreds of dollars).

Or pay the insurance rate of about $5 monthly, if you lose your phone you still have to pay a $35-50 deductible, and guess what: you don’t get a new handset anyways, you get a REFURBISHED handset.

Andrew says:

Lost is not always lost?

Perhaps the figures include those (like me) who mis-lay their phone somewhere for a short period of time, then get it back. No replacement cost at least. Still, the piece does seem rather un-researched, and unsupported by figures. Simply dividing replacement cost by cost of an average phone can tell you something is off by one or two decimal places pretty quickly.

ehrichweiss says:


Ever seen the Penn and Teller show, Bullshit! ? This past season they did an episode on how statistics can be manipulated to trick you. It was quite informative, especially when you see the guy who generates the questions for polls that many of these statistics are based on. By changing a simple question he could make someone contradict themselves who had previously stated, for example, that they hated Bush or whatever.

On that note, there was a study done a few years ago where people were shown a video of a car hitting another. Two groups were then asked two different questions that only varied ever so slightly. “How fast was the car going when they collided into one another?” and “How fast was the car going when they smashed into one another?” Without fail the second question got 10-20mph faster speeds reported. Think about that next time you are in a courtroom….

hehe says:

I emailed the author

Your article about lost cell phones has…well…lost me.

Wireless World: A looming ‘cell hell’

So I’m reading this article and the first thing that jumps out at me is “Research shows that 65 percent of Americans lost their cell phones last year — and it cost $600 million to replace them”.

Ok theres roughly 300million people in the US…65% of that is 195,000,000…$600m spread out over them equally is roughly $3 a cell phone.

then I said “wait thats not right because not everyone in the US owns a cell phone!”

And of course they don’t cost $3. Although, maybe everyone signed up for a new calling plan each time they replaced their phone and the provider gave them a discount..but usually providers make you wait until your contract is almost up before they give you another discount.

So lets try and increase that $3 figure so our statistics look better. Pretend 70% of 300m americans own a cell phone. thats still 210m people but maybe your meant to say 65% of cell phone owners lost their cell phones..thats only 136.5m phones…er people…

so then each phone would cost about…$4.40??? no that can’t be…

How many phones were even sold in the US in 2005?

Please remove your article from the website.



Stats Suck, But says:

Reading the stats in context

You gotta read the stats in the article in context:

(1) “65 percent of Americans lost their cell phones last year” — this isn’t 65% of all Americans (you can’t lose a cell phone if you don’t own one) Nearly two-thirds of us lose a cell phone every year?! I’ve heard of only a single cell phone lost in our IT department in the past three years.

(2) Yes, the math for cost per user to replace them is horribly wrong.

(3) “if you are among the 45 percent of mobile phone owners who don’t lose their phones on an annual basis” — this statistic has nothing to do with the first one (this is of repeat losers — probably making up for a lot of stat #1)

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