Tag Archives: Textbook

Statistics Without Context Are Useless

In preparing for the classes that I teach on Tuesday, I was re-reading the assigned chapters in the textbook yesterday. This week, we’re covering cross-cultural management. A few pages into the chapter, I was dismayed to read the following:

“Here are a couple of positive signs: 2008 saw record numbers of foreign students (623,805) studying in the United States and US students (241,791) studying abroad.”

Does anyone know what’s wrong with this? After reading this paragraph, I took to Twitter to respond. Let’s go to the tweets!





To summarize: statistics without context are useless.

To better contextualize the numbers offered in the textbook, the author would need to tell offer some numbers on the recent number of foreign students studying in the US and likewise, US students studying abroad. That is, are the numbers trending up? Downward? Was this year an anomaly?

More importantly than earlier years, would be to fully contextualize it by offering percentages. Is the percentage of foreign-born students studying in the US higher than it was last year? What about for US student studying abroad?

Simply offering these absolute values is, in a sense, misleading. It conveys to the reader that foreign study is trending up, when in fact, it could be on the decline. By having more students studying (in general) there is a higher number of students who could study abroad. And that’s why it’s important to have percentages (in this case). In some cases, percentages won’t be helpful. It really all depends on the question you’re trying to answer or the information you’re trying to convey.

Note: for those interested, the quote comes from Organizational Behavior, 9th edition, page 103.

Who Are The Good Guys? Does It Matter?

Who are the good guys? Who are the bad guys? Do you know? I often don’t. The attribution of good and bad is directly related to the narrative in which you consume. If you consume the narrative of X, then X will be the good guys and Y will be the bad guys. If you consume the narrative of Y, then Y will be the good guys and X will be the bad guys. Some may argue that it’s not as simple as all that, but isn’t it? Isn’t it as simple as someone (friend, parent, or media outlet), telling you that something is happening and how it affects you, enough to shape your opinion even without your knowing?

In doing a quick search of “” on Google, it returns nearly 7,000,000 hits — and that’s with the quotations! This question of “who are the good guys” is not something new. Some search for more ‘trivial’ good guys as in the . Others are looking for more historical accounts of . There are even searches for the (and this was back in 1998)! More recently, it’s been inquiry into the and the . Although, there are still people curious about .

A , infinitely quotable, once said: “” And isn’t that the truth? Once the victors move on from the dispute, don’t they then get to write the “textbooks”? In the past, it would have been the stories they told around the fire, but as humans have grown and evolved to include the written word, what often is passed on from generation to generation is the story as told from the “good guys” perspective. That is, the “good guys” being the ones who won. And isn’t that how it always eventually happens? The “good guys” always seem to win, no matter what.

In reading a few history textbooks, I doubt you’ll find stories of the “bad guys” winning. In fact, I doubt you’ll even find many textbooks that offer the perspective of the “bad guys” in much detail, least of all, objectively. The “bad guys” will be painted as “bad guys” who wanted something from the “good guys.” The good guys, being the good guys, of course, triumph! And more history is written where the good guys succeed. There’s a very interesting read on this subject by called: “” I’m not saying that what Loewen has written is the “right” view of history, but it provides a perspective that you may not have otherwise considered.

I wanted to close this post with a couple more quotes. The first, from “:

The history of some is not the history of others. It will be discovered, or at least asserted, that the history of the Saxons after their defeat at the Battle of Hastings is not the same history as the history of the Normans who were the victors in the same battle. It will be learned that one man’s victory is another man’s defeat. . . What looks like right, law, or obligation from the point of view of power looks like the abuse of power, violence, and exaction when it is seen from the viewpoint of the new discourse, just as it does when we go over to the other side. . . the triumph of some means the submission of others.

And finally, a from : “He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future.