Dangerous Data: when it tells the wrong story

I opened up my email this morning to see an article from Mashable titled The Anatomy of the World’s Top Performing CEOs [INFOGRAPHIC] and then opened the article to see a really depressing infographic that emphasized the maleness and marriedness and even the hairline of the CEO’s.

Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 6.00.09 PM

At first I thought, that’s not good for business, but then I looked deeper. It seemed that the creators of the infographic – CEO.com & DomoΒ – had extracted their own ‘data’ from the HBR.com study that was less about demographics and more about characteristics (that had little to do with hairlines, marital statuses or gender).

This is incredibly irresponsible. Way more people will read and pass along an infographic than will ever see the original source (especially since it costs $6.95 and is behind a login/paywall), so they’ll jump to the conclusion that the effect of being a good CEO is caused by these unrelated factors.

I was so moved I decided to make a video to explain it. Would love to jump start a conversation around this.

Original article: http://mashable.com/2013/09/23/top-performing-ceos/ (p.s Mark Zuckerberg isn’t one of the top performing CEO’s…Mashable is so unreliable for information)
HBR report: http://hbr.org/2013/01/the-best-performing-ceos-in-the-world

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Categories: featured, personal

Author:Tara Hunt

Strategist. Researcher. Interdisciplinarian. Founder, Lime Foundry + Buyosphere. Author, The Whuffie Factor. Speaker. Mother. Karaoke lover.


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7 Comments on “Dangerous Data: when it tells the wrong story”

  1. September 25, 2013 at 15:15 #

    I saw this too and felt quite disappointed by it. Glad you got to the bottom of the “data.”

  2. September 25, 2013 at 15:29 #

    Maybe HBR should pair an infographic with its report as a promotional tactic? This could be a great way for serious long form content publishers like HBR to promote a report like this and potentially increase reach and paid downloads.

  3. September 25, 2013 at 15:42 #

    It is funny how the Mashable article with its infographic transformed this HBR initiative and forgot the key message and the goal of their study. Sadly, the appeal of infographics means that people don’t always question the validity of the illustrated statistics and will write stories that focus on the wrong message.

  4. ariemoyal
    September 25, 2013 at 16:10 #

    Nice catch! Thanks for exploring this.

  5. September 25, 2013 at 18:55 #

    Mashable content is like People Magazine for the Web and it’s trendy to share their content, even though it lacks substance. The headlines and titles are entertaining and 99% of people won’t dig as deep as you to get to the meat of the data from comic strip infographics. (Like Domo’s and CEO.com.)

    I’m glad you took the time to critique the data. It’s popular to automatically Retweet posts – just because it’s Mashable. I doubt this will change anything but I like it when people point out the emperor has dirty underwear.

    Kudos to you for calling them ALL out.

    Brian Hansford

  6. September 25, 2013 at 22:31 #

    This is another example of “If it’s on the Internet, then it MUST be true!” That’s exactly how many feel, and when ‘respectable’ sources like Mashable promote misleading information, people just eat it up as noted in the comments above. It just highlights what many of us know: A Google search isn’t research. It’s just a starting point. Thanks for sharing your insights and setting a great of example of looking for the real information, not just accepting what’s on the surface.

  7. October 1, 2013 at 04:08 #

    This is so disappointing! Infographics are so dangerous because once someone who has a lot of followers gets hold of it and shares it, then they see it as a trusted source and it becomes viral. Although media is such a great part of our time, things like this are what makes it bad. It’s difficult to differentiate between what can be trusted and what can’t. Not only is this infographic degrading, it’s completely irrelevant to what really makes up a successful CEO! Thanks for sharing this so that I can be sure to pay more attention to where graphics come from!


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