“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” — Benjamin Disraeli (attributed)
Do you look at your blog’s statistics, as provided by the backroom boys and girls of WordPress? (Or, rather, merely thrown up due to some clever programming?) Perhaps you think it’s as infra dig as Googling™ your name? Well, I’m a reprobate and beyond succour because not only do I check up how easy it is to find out all my details online (frighteningly so — have you tried yours?) but I also give a more than cursory glance to WP’s stats (or as 19th-century wisdom has it, the third and worst kind of lie).
Now in amongst all the figures a couple of things struck me. First, in this one month of January 2016 I have had as many views as I had in the nine months of 2012 when I first started blogging. Well, it’s good to know that I’m getting something right and reaching a wider audience.
But secondly, and perhaps more interestingly, I discover that some of that audience — many if not most probably not WP bloggers — seem to have a penchant for the occult and conspiracies. How do I suspect this? Well, have a look at some
lies — ahem — viewing figures from the start of 2014 to near the end of January 2016:
Procopius: The Secret History 395
Procopius: The Secret History 376
Lev Grossman: The Magicians 292
Lev Grossman: The Magicians 304
Here’s the thing: in 2014 a significant number of searches (just under 10% of the total views) were for a 6th-century Byzantine gossiping historian, Procopius; then in 2015 the number remained more or less stable but accounted for only about 3% of the views; while so far in 2016 Procopius is nowhere to be seen (you might expect perhaps around thirty views if the pattern continued). I have no explanation as to why the imperial couple Justinian and Theodora were so popular for those two years, but perhaps the history’s title, The Secret History, was responsible. Unless people thought Procopius wrote Donna Tartt’s first big success.
Meanwhile, another search favourite has taken over Procopius’ top spot for blog posts here: Lev Grossman’s engrossing Fillory tales, especially the first of the trilogy (The Magicians). Now the big spike for January — surpassing the whole of 2015’s searches for Fillory — can be explained by the book’s adaptation as a TV series. The fact that discussion around the series (which began on 25th January on the SyFy channel) has been decidedly mixed seems not to have punctured the interest generated way back at the start of 2015.
Of course all this could be a farrago of confabulations, based on little or no detailed analysis which, in any case, is based on no qualitative investigating. So it may all be lies, if not damned lies, cunningly masquerading as statistics; as Mark Twain (who attributed my opening quote to Disraeli) is said to have said, “Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable.” Somehow Donald Rumsfeld’s unwittingly witty “unknown unknowns” spring to mind in this context.