27 May 2008

Abuse of averages

At Freakonomics, they're talking about an advertisement that says that the average termite eats 24 hours a day. (This is an ad for a pest control company.)

Of course, this isn't possible!

Nearly every termite is actually below average; I don't know much about termites but at some point they slack off.

However, the average termite colony might be eating close to 24 hours a day, in that at least one of the termites in your house may be eating at any given moment. And I think this is the point the ad was trying to make -- termites are constantly destroying your house. (Even this might not be true. Do termites sleep at night?)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's actually an abuse of logic first. What's the difference in risk to your million dollar home if the average termite were to eat a) 12 hours a day, and b) 24 hours a day?

I don't know the name of this fallacy, but I've seen it before. I'd call it argument-by-size: X appears so large that it implies anything.