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How To Lie With Statistics
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Raw data is message-neutral, but statistics represent an interpretation of the data. This is where the fun begins.
If you're a propagandist with a party-platform to impose, it's not difficult to make the data appear as a rising or falling trajectory, or a flat line - whatever is required to offer "proof."
As a younger man, Darrell Huff worked for the tobacco industry. He was part of an effort to make the Marlboro Man seem as harmless as Mister Rogers; for a long time, he succeeded. He learned his craft well.
Editor's note: It was Churchill who pointed out that "craft" can refer to not only skill but deception.
Later in life, now more contrite, Huff repackaged all of the old tricks of the trade as the seminal work, "How To Lie With Statistics." It's a masterpiece of cutting through falderal.
What does Huff mean, "it cannot be pinned on you"?
Well, it can be pinned, that is, by any clear-thinking analyst, but it's not easy. Just to throw you off, there's probably a small element of truth -- a half-truth, and less than half -- to the massaged graph or bar-chart. And so, if push-comes-to-shove, you can always say, "it's in the data."
But we'll see about that.
fun with numbers; how this game is played
carefully managed gradations, carefully selected parameters
Notice how the chart on the left presents data with increments of 500,000, while the chart on the right uses 10,000,000. If you want to create an illusion of numbers "going through the roof," use a tiny gradation system. This magnifies the smallest tweak of change. In fact, if you want the line to go straight up, use 100,000, or 10,000. That'll make it sing and dance.
Here's another one.
Same data, but the one on the left offers a line approaching near-vertical stance, while the one on the right is very hum-drum. It's all in the magic of the side-bar gradation. Is it 1 in 10 or 1 in 1,000,000? The difference will make the data cook with gasoline.
Or here's a common hocus-pocus. If your purpose is to make the President look bad, show a graph like this:
Charts like this are presented with grave-concern commentary, "There is little or no change in economic conditions, there is no economic success. The President is lying when he says things are much better now."
However, turn the dial to a more accommodating -- shall we say, "realistic"? -- side bar gradation, and we'll see a different picture pretty fast.
Editor's note: The claim "the President is lying" is common fare from his enemies. I've heard things like "We've made a list of 5000 of his lies." Funny thing, though, I've never heard them give even one actual example of what those lies might be. Where are these lies? It's all very vague; as Huff puts it, just a "well-wrapped statistic" and "they can't pin it on you." Propaganda-graphs, like the one above, are used as lying basis, as faux-evidence to support claims of "The President is lying." When an empty-suit talking-head blathers on pontificating that "things are getting worse" or "the disease is resurging" or "we're headed for economic disaster," we'll want to know more about the data supporting such claims and the methods used to obtain it; see discussion below on the tricks used to blacklist someone.
Editor's note: Have you ever been blacklisted? I have, more than once. It causes much damage to one's life; sometimes, taking years to recover, if at all. Keep in mind that, if they can do this, and get away with it, then we create an unjust society of mob-rule where no one is safe -- they will eventually attack you, when you're no longer useful to them.
Judgement At Nuremberg:
Ernst Janning: "Judge Haywood... Those people, those millions of people... I never knew it would come to that. You must believe it, you must believe it!”
Judge Dan Haywood: "Herr Janning - it 'came to that' the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent."
It "comes to that" the first time we, any of us, support the unjust kangaroo-court treatment of any human being, whether he be the President or the street-sweeper.
The "side-bar gradation" manipulation knows many contexts. Here's a graph that shows disaster in tree rings:
But if we change the scale from tenths to a larger number, suddenly it's all flat-lined. I like the heading, "Mike's trick to hide the decline." Yeah.
Editor's note: Right now, there's much politics mixed in with "science." I don't trust the stats presented by the totalitarians. They claim to be a compassionate Mister Rogers, but I don't believe they're really interested in saving the Earth at all, not when they treat their opponents so unjustly and cruelly. For them, it's not about saving the Earth, it's about global taxation, which is an avenue to global power and control; "1984" oppression is their endgame.
selecting an advantageous time-frame
Decades ago, when I was a novice stockbroker, I noticed that success-graphs supplied by mutual fund companies would typically offer a range of years beginning with the 1987 crash. This was not by accident. If you start the clock ticking from a low point in the market, it makes you look good. It's cherry-picking the time-frame. Pretty sleazy.
As is pointed out here, sometimes the time-frame is even truncated, bits and pieces offered for view, not even giving the whole timeline. That's really sleazy. But when this is done, you can make a graph point up or down, as required to offer "proof."
and then there's the issue of the statistically useless sampling size and the leading, and misleading, questions asked
This kind of prevarication is all too common in politically-motivated polling.
opportunistic usages of the term "average"
Our two friends here have an average of three legs. Well, what's the matter with you, it's just a fact, don't fight it, or we'll claim you're lying. As Huff said, "they can't pin it on you."
The propagandist will use a definition of "average" most conducive to his argument; but, likely, he won't tell you which one he's choosing, or why.
you'll want to read Huff's book, there's much to consider
Here are a few items for further discussion:
Editor's note: I've actually seen #3, a coin landing upright. Traditional education would not like this option as it seeks for the "right answer" of heads or tails. But life isn't always that way, not so cut-and-dried. The great scientist Niels Bohr loved to think in terms of outlandish possibilities. There's a reason why he was the one to change the world with his utterly counter-intuitive quantum mechanics.
The chronicle of human history is one long sad story of oppression by needy egos. They will use brute force if they can get away with it, but, second best for them, these totalitarians will try to deceive you, to convince you, to surrender your liberties.
In the article on “Cultism,” we discussed that its root meaning is “to cut,” that is, to pare and refine, to systematize and regulate. In other words, the cultish forces of this world – be they of the political, religious, corporate, or materialistic-science stripe – will attempt to redefine and redistill reality, to persuade you to surrender personal freedoms, with an elite on top as deserving of your homage; the unthinking kind, of course.
In this redefining of reality - where up is down, light is dark, good is evil - they purpose to create a new morality, a new sense of right and wrong. To enforce this new code of righteousness, which supports their untoward agenda, and as they usually have no current access to widespread brute force, they will attempt to censor thought, control dialogue, shut-down honest debate - which stifling effort comes to us as “political correctness." They're not able to provide rational defense for their agenda, and so they'll try to make you feel bad, make you to be the bad guy, or even make it a crime, for you to voice the truth.
George Orwell: "During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act."
“Lying with statistics” is part of this age-old propaganda process leading to oppression. How much oppression? - as much as they can get away with. This is the story of history. And we don't need a bar-chart to convince us, just open any history book, to any page.
Editor's last word:
This subject is a lot more than spotting debating tricks or clever gimmicks in advertizing.
The malfeasance and sleight-of-hand of which we’ve spoken is but a small part of totalitarians’ diligence to impose their will upon the unwary masses.
On the homepage, I offered a small inset-box featuring the life-work of William Wilberforce (see below). Nothing has changed from his day to ours. Would-be totalitarians, needy egos, like cats sleeping with eye-slits open, are always on guard against reformers who would attempt to bolster personal freedoms for the common man. When someone like Wilberforce comes along, the totalitarians immediately come out with the long knives and attempt, non-stop, to viciously smear the reformer, from every possible angle. Let's open our eyes to what’s happening in the world.
the courageous reformer, champion of personal freedoms, vilified by the ‘deep state’ mob
In 1787, a young Englishman, William Wilberforce, became aware of the atrocities of the African slave trade. So moved was he that, against all odds, against powerful political and economic interests, often working alone, he began to wage war on this barbarity. Very slowly, by inches, as prosecuting attorney for the truth, he would turn public opinion against the great inhumanism. Finally, after 46 years of crusade, during which he was constantly attacked, threatened, and vilified by the privileged "deep state," Parliament set as law The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 throughout the entire British Empire. Wilberforce's struggle was not unique: every reformer, as guardian of sacred freedoms and human dignity, intent upon overturning the vested totalitarian interests, the "money-changers' tables," will face kangaroo-court treatment in this world. See William Wilberforce in the motion picture, Amazing Grace, and read more on the "Economics" page.