Problems with the SQL operator Average

What is the average of this set of values? 4, 8, 6

The average is 6, the operation is (4+8+6) / 3.

If we use the SQL operator AVG() with that set of values the result is the same six, unless at least one more value appears in the set, I mean the “value” null, then the set become: 4, 8, 6, null

The operation would be? (4+8+6+null) / 3.

Whatever null means in this context, the common sense tells us that this operation using SQL should not give us a numeric answer because of null, maybe some other kind of answer like for ex. “I don’t know”.

The problem is that when a SQL query with operator AVG() has this later set of values the answer is 6, it means that SQL doesn’t consider null as another value, and worse it doesn’t tell us anything else, with the consequence that the answer may be misinterpreted.

We have to be consious about this problem. We can have a database table with a hundred of tuples with one numeric attribute that has the values 4 and 2, and the rest just losts of nulls,

4, 2, null, null, …, null a hundred times

then in an SQL AVG() operation we obtain the result of 3.

Obviously the answer cannot be 3, it makes no sense. Well Ok, SQL calculates (4+2) / 2 = 3, but may SQL tell us that there are losts of nulls not being considered in the operation, but no, SQL doesn’t tell us anything else but the result three.

Some other problems about the operator sum vs. count can be found in my publication:

A detailed explanation plus some other problems found with the SQL aggregate operators is found in my book:

%d bloggers like this: