Summary of How the Average Triumphed Over the Median

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In today’s world, calculating the “arithmetic mean” of a given data set is considered par for the course. But this wasn’t always the case. In this article, Priceonomics staff writer Dan Kopf offers a brief, but compelling overview of the history of how the mean ultimately triumphed over the “median” as the standard for finding “representative values.” In so doing, Kopf persuasively argues against overreliance upon the mean when analyzing data. getAbstract recommends this article to everyone interested in how to best analyze and showcase statistics.

About the Author

Dan Kopf is a Priceonomics staff writer. He holds a master’s degree in economics from the London School of Economics.



The use of the “arithmetic mean” and the “median” as we understand them today didn’t emerge until the 16th and 17th centuries, respectively. Ancient scientists, like the Greek astronomer Ptolemy, mainly relied upon theory for their calculations, coupled with small amounts of observational data. When scientists did use any sort of “representative” calculation, they used the midrange – the “average” of the “maximum and minimum measurements.”

The first definite recorded instance of a scientist...

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