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Following the Rules

What Makes a Christmas Song “Classic?”

A factoid is a piece of information that sounds true and credible when you first hear it, but upon further thought, turns out to be false.

Take this XKCD comic for example: it lists Christmas songs from the last hundred years, and argues that baby boomers are the ones who define what makes a christmas song classic.


Now, this looks correct, right? Look at all those boxes!

Unless you think about it a little bit.

This chart only has seven Christmas songs on it, and sure, those seven songs happen to match what Randall Munroe (writer of XKCD) wants us to believe, but I bet you can think of a recent song that isn’t on that list.

So, here’s my version of that chart, with all the Christmas songs that were hits in the last 100 years, to argue the point that Christmas songs ARE spread out over the years, and as a reminder to not accept everything you read at face value.

number of hit christmas songs per year

Click for Full size. Data Source

Notice how the number of Christmas hits per year actually increases as we get closer to the current year. This is an example of using the same data to come to a completely different conclusion.

Source Amnesia is a concept explaining why we remember information way longer than we remember what the source is, and here’s a quote about it:

“Memory reflects the encoding process during acquisition. Different types of acquisition processes (e.g.: reading, thinking, listening) and different types of events (e.g.: newspaper, thoughts, conversation) will produce mental depictions that differ from one another in the brain, making it harder to retrieve where information was learned.”

So, in six months, when someone mentions this XKCD comic to you, and you don’t remember where you heard that it was wrong, remember that concept, and also remember to check out the facts before posting them on Quora.

What’s the worst example of data being misinterpreted you’ve ever seen?


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