There is a saying that goes, “There are 3 types of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.” As you can imagine, as a scientist this is not my favorite saying. However, there is some truth to it. Numbers, rates, and stats make many of us a bit dizzy – we shut down to the details – and when we can’t understand the details, we sure can’t see the big picture.
The numbers actually never lie. We just need to understand what the numbers are actually representing – and when an increase or decrease is reported, what the change is compared to. This is naked data—and I am ready to bare it all.
Imagine a shelter with an intake of 1,500, 500 live releases and 500 euthanasias. The shelter can report these numbers in a variety of ways:
- The shelter can choose to say that they have a “save rate” of 66.66%. Save rate is normally reported as intake minus euthanasia divided by intake. This formula includes as “saved” the population of animals who still do not have a final disposition.
- The shelter might choose to report a euthanasia rate of 33.33%. This still leaves that population that has yet to have a final disposition unaccounted for.
- The shelter might report their numbers using the formula that we at the ASPCA use – the Live Release Rate, where we take all live releases and divide that number by all live intake. In our example above, we would have a live release rate of 33.33%.
As you can see, these different formulas can make it very difficult to compare apples to apples. The same shelter has a save rate of 66.66% (where ‘saved’ includes animals who will likely ultimately be euthanized) and a live release rate of 33.33% (where animals without a final fate are included in the formula of intake). While a shelter reporting save rate sounds like it has a higher number of animals finding homes, it in fact has the same exact amount… they are just counting non-dispositioned animals in their formula. Now in the real world, I would hope that no shelter would ever have half of its total intake without a final disposition… but you get the point.
My gut screams that we need NAKED DATA. In our ASPCA partner communities, we have had the opportunity to use this naked data and have the ability to compare the data – with all numbers consistent in what they represent, using terms defined in our glossary!– from Spokane to Tampa, thus allowing us to move toward true black-and-white benchmarks. As an example, check out Austin’s numbers for the 4th quarter of 2009, broken down from intake to outcome.
Want to learn more? We will be facilitating workshops about naked data at the 6 PetPoint summits and a few other regional workshops this year. I hope to see you there. If you cannot come or want to chew on more, be sure to check back here often, as I will be revisiting this topic and showing you some real-world examples of the power of naked data.