How many people have more than the average number of hands?

I’ll just wait while you get that one wrong.

Okay … if nine out of ten people earn $100 a day and one of them earns $9,100 a day, what is the (mean) average daily income?

9 x $100 = $900

$900 + $9,100 = $10,000

$10,000 / 10 = $1,000

Now … how many of them earn the average daily income?

Absolutely no-one.

So … if nine out of ten people have two hands but the tenth lost a hand in an industrial accident …

9 x 2 = 18 hands.

18 + 1 = 19 hands.

19 / 10 = 1.9 hands.

In fact, almost everybody on the face of the planet has more than the average number of hands.

By the same token, therefore, how many people have below average intelligence?

Well … Einstein alone skewed the average higher than it would otherwise be.

How bad is the situation?

Add in all the other geniuses from History and you have some idea of how low everyone else’s intelligence must be for the average to not be even higher than it already is.

[Yes, yes, I know that’s not how the ‘average’ was determined for the IQ scale (I’m a psychologist after all), but that’s not the point — see the footnote below]

If you want a reason to slash your wrists as the dreadful realisation hits that Idiocracy was not science fiction but a damning indictment of the here and now then read the comments here …

Gems such as “I’m sure you’re right but I can’t stand to read his article beyond the headlines” … and “I haven’t read this article because I suspect it is going to be more Leftie rubbish. But I love the title, well done you for that” … will surely bring anyone with an I.Q. in triple digits to tears.

There may, however, be cause for optimism — paradoxically, those very people are, simultaneously, perhaps Mankind’s greatest hope for the future of our species.

They, you see, may be the very ones to make the colonisation of other planets possible: the problem described here will not affect them in the least.

Furthermore, their departure from Earth could dramatically improve the chances for those who remain; Douglas Adams was really onto something when he described the actions of the Golgafrinchans


No, median averages aren’t any more accurate than mean averages in the real world.

Taking our ten people again …

Person 1 earns $20 per day
Person 2 earns $20 per day
Person 3 earns $20 per day
Person 4 earns $50 per day
Person 5 earns $60 per day
Person 6 earns $90 per day
Person 7 earns $90 per day
Person 8 earns $90 per day
Person 9 earns $460 per day
Person 10 earns $9,100 per day

The median income is $75 per day.

Once again, not one person earns the daily median and it is, therefore, as meaningless a measure of average income as is the mean — which, by the way remains $1,000 … and is still not earned by even one person.

Yes, I have selected the figures to make a point and, in reality, people’s incomes would not be so rigidly demarcated, but that’s not the point; the point is that, when people (most notably politicians) bandy around terms like ‘average’ or ‘in real terms’ it is important to ask ourselves just how representative they are of what the real life experience of most people truly is and whether the allegedly ‘real’ terms bear any relationship to it or are simply relative to a statistical average that is entirely unrepresentative of most people’s reality to begin with — fundamentally, as soon as you hear a politician waxing lyrical about the ‘real terms’ benefits of their policies, you can be almost certain they’re lying and that things are (or will be) much, much worse for those affected by them.

If you want to know what the ‘average’ truly is, look at the modal value … the value that occurs most frequently — in the original example it is $100.

This is why, when people say things like “fifty percent of people have, by definition, below average intelligence” you know they have no more grasp of the matter than might those they consider less intelligent than themselves — because, if they were really that intelligent themselves, they would know that the mean and median values do not coincide with reality except by sheer chance and that the bell curve of values upon which they base their observation is almost certainly meaningless to start with.

If, like in the example above (in which three earn $20 and three $90), there is no single modal value then take a hybrid view and look at where most values fall; in both of the above examples it is ‘considerably below the highest value’: even the second highest income is only 5% of the highest and all the others added together are only 95% of that — altogether, 90% of those people earn a grand total of 9.9% of the highest earner’s income between them … and, furthermore, when you look at it properly, the idea that one person constitutes 10% of the population just shows how the picture can be further skewed by statistical anomalies ¹.

So, in the above example of median income, no, there is no truly modal value … but there doesn’t really need to be one in order to note that no-one earns the ‘average’ income … that 50% of them earn less than that … and absolutely nobody earns the mean average.

¹ Yes, they are 10% of the population … but there’s a significant difference between one person out of ten and one-hundred out of one thousand … let alone seven-hundred-million out of seven billion … isn’t there? ².

² There comes a point when percentages are no longer terribly important when compared to actual numbers — 128% monthly growth on a 50% annual shortfall isn’t as good as it can be made to sound … and 100% more ‘people exactly like me’ out of seven billion of us is still ‘pretty lonely’ ³.





There he goes. One of God's own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live and too rare to die.

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Where Angels Fear

Where Angels Fear

There he goes. One of God's own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live and too rare to die.

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