General Science, Mathematics, and Technology


What is the difference between a median and a mean?

If a string of numbers is arranged in numerical order, the median is the middle value of the string. If there is an even number of values in the string, the median is found by adding the two middle values and dividing by two. The arithmetic mean, also known as the simple average, is found by taking the sum of the numbers in the string and dividing by the number of items in the string. While easy to calculate for relatively short strings, the arithmetic mean can be misleading, as very large or very small values in the string can distort it. For example, the mean of the salaries of a professional football team would be skewed if one of the players was a high-earning superstar; it could be well above the salaries of any of the other players thus making the mean higher. The mode is the number in a string that appears most often.

For the string 111222234455667, for example, the median is the middle number of the series: 3. The arithmetic mean is the sum of numbers divided by the number of numbers in the series, 51 / 15 = 3.4. The mode is the number that occurs most often, 2.


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