2010-05-18

Popular Percentage Quoter Guide

This is intended to help those who might ask, for example:
  • a bank official about how secure their automatic cash dispensers are
  • a doctor about how safe the operation you're about to undergo is
  • a journalist about what proportion of people have rotweilers
  • a salesman about almost anything
and the response to your question is in the form of a percentage.
There appears to be no obvious way to distinguish useful responses from useless ones. Fortunately however, the providers of such estimates usually lack the requisite mathematical skill, imagination or inventiveness to be in any way convincing and it is often quite simple to distinguish the bamboozler from someone who knows what they're talking about. If you judge that you've ended up in the hands of the former, you will end up with no useful information on what you're asking about - be in no doubt about that. But happily, all is not lost since you may at least garner valuable information about the person you're quizzing or the organisation to which they belong, information which cannot but prove useful in any future dealings.
We recommend that you print this onto paper (at least 90gsm) and cut out the following table with a strong pair of scissors (use the table border provided as a guide). You may then laminate the result with any popular laminating machine found on the market, and will thus be able to conveniently carry it with you for rapid use at all times.
fifty fifty Informant doesn't know and will happily recount horrific stories about failures. Such informants will at least provide you with a useful source of amusing anecdotal material.
90% Informant doesn't know but may, on occasion, reluctantly tell you about the odd case where something went wrong, just as a personal favour.
95% Informant doesn't know and will recount tedious, pointless stories about failures which were invariably the stupid customer's fault. If you hear this figure, you should head immediately for the nearest exit.
98% Informant doesn't know but wishes you to know that you're being taken seriously and will, if pressed, provide the single officially vetted example of a none too serious failure.
98.4253% Informant doesn't know but is auditioning for a role as Mr Spock in a musical version of Star Trek.
99% Informant doesn't know and the possibility of something going wrong hadn't occurred to them before you asked.
99.9% Informant doesn't know and hasn't heard about anything going wrong because they've been kept in the dark.
99.99% Informant doesn't know but is aware of occasions where something awful happened although they have no intention of telling you about it.
99.9999% More commonly expressed as "one in a million", the informant has no idea but was only that morning reading a newspaper article on the safety of nuclear power.
99.9999999% Rarely heard and only ever in the form "ten to the minus 9", the informant has absolutely no idea, works for the government, and knows someone who has rigorously tested the product in question for about forty minutes, with no obvious failure.
100% Informant is a liar.
110% Informant is not taking your question at all seriously and thinks you're a moron for asking.
200% - 1000% Informant is a moron.
An additional useful tip. If the informant uses the expression "confidence interval" with any of these figures (except for the fifth and the final three - in which case you may safely conclude that the informant was educated by post), you may additionally infer that your informant possesses at least a first degree, but not necessarily in a numerate discipline.

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