Not understanding the data: diversity and friendship

Posted by on Aug 25, 2014 in Diversity

August 25, 2014

You have more diverse friends than they’re telling you today.

The Washington Post took some survey statistics about how many friends of different races people have and, in trying to make them comprehensible, ended up making people seem like they have less diverse friends than they probably do.

The blog presented the information as if, for every 100 friends a white person has, they’ll only have one black friend. And every black person only has eight white friends, for every 100 friends.

But you skip down to the methodology tucked away neatly at the end, and you discover that the survey was actually about only seven friends that a person regularly discusses important matters, i.e. this was a survey about close friendships not the entire scope of your friendships. It seems likely that there is less diversity in  close friendships than in our broader group of friendships.

Maybe you could argue that your close friendships are a more important indicator of race relations than a broader group of friends who you might know on Facebook but don’t interact with much. ¬†Perhaps. But the way it was being characterized today led to counterintuitive conclusions such as that the average black person has zero asian friends. Perhaps that is true, but the study in question really doesn’t tell us this with any confidence. It tells that the average black has zero asian friends that crack their top seven.