The (un)Truth About Statistics

DISCLAIMER: The ideas and opinions presented in the following article are the product of the author’s brain … g0th|ca cannot be held responsible for anything said herein, since she is not responsible for what her brain does … IT is an INDEPENDENT ENTITY! Reading through to the end of the article implies that you have read, and understood (and that, you’ve agreed to abide by) this disclaimer – Thank you!

Have you ever heard the expression, “Four out of five doctors recommend…”? Or “… 42% more relief from heartburn”? Or “… has 90% contribution to our GDP “? Perhaps you suspected that these claims were not completely true and if you didn’t (chances are greater :D) then there is more than 100% possibility that you are DUMB!!! It is wise to be suspicious, because statistics (and numbers in general) can be manufactured to make any dea sound convincing. If you want to deceive people, statistics makes it easy. Various methods have been thought of, tried, and applied, to date, with various degrees of success.We shall now discuss few of them in as much detail as is possible without actually revealing the name(s) of the inventors, lest we be dead by tomorrow.

Starting with newer, more innovative methods…..the one that strucks is the ‘trial and error’ technique. If at first you don’t get the result you wanted, try, try again. Suppose you want to claim in a TV commercial that 4 out of 5 dentists recommend your toothpaste. You ask 5 dentists, but only 1 of them recommends your brand (LOL! :p). Ask another 5 dentists! This time, 2 of them recommend your brand. Forget them! Ask another 5! Keep trying until, by random fluctuation, you get lucky and 4 out of 5 recommend your brand. Then, show your TV commercial. Whatever you do, do not talk about the 13,925 dentists you had to survey before you got lucky.

The ‘trial and error’ method has been used for centuries and we proudly announce that this technique has been tried, tested AND perfected by our statisticians.

NOT Quantity!…..exactly! A popular variant to the above-mentioned `trial and error` technique …….. suppose a trafic police department recently introduced new legislatures designed to reduce the number of road accidents. They were pleased to announce that in the first four months of the year, road accidents were down a whopping 60% compared to last year. Can’t argue with that! Or can you? How many are we talking about here? If last year there were 50 accidents, and this year only 20, then they are down 60%, and there is no doubt that this result is statistically significant.  BUT suppose there were 5 accidents last year, and only 2 this year. Yes, they are down 60%….. a WHOPPING 60%…a pretty convincing statistics ….nobody knows “how much” data went into them.

Another ‘exclusively-statistician’ technique is to REPHRASE your question …yeah! Design your survey to produce a speicifc response. Phrase questions to make the desired response sound good, while making the undesired response sound very bad.
Try saying no to this question: “Should we invest more in our children’s future by passing the school funding bill?” Lo and behold, people do want to invest in their children’s future, so most people say yes, and the survey says that the vast majority favor the bill.
Now answer to this question: Should we raise taxes to fund more and bigger government bureaucracy by passing the school funding bill?”
I bet your response would be a big NO!!! …. 😉

So, we have successfully ‘un’covered the methods of misusing statistics …no doubt these methods open up whole new vistas of ‘producing proofs’!!!

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