the numbers game


A colleague in Hong Kong remarked, “torture numbers, and they’ll tell you anything.”

At first it made me smile, but as the words sank in, their true gravity became apparent.

Numbers have become propaganda.

Once we could count on them to substantiate and objectify – to transform conjecture into hard fact and truth.

But that authority is gone; their objectivity no longer absolute.

Numbers have evolved into a tool for misrepresentation and deceit.

As Vic Reeves remarked, “88.2% of statistics are made up on the spot.”

A wonderful article on today’s BBC News website sums the issue up beautifully.

It’s all about context.

Depending on the context, even mathematical fundamentals come into question.

Consider the case of an amorous couple, where 1+1 could easily equal 3 (or maybe even more). 

Numbers alone won’t tell you the whole story; make sure you consider the bigger picture.

As The Economist once remarked:


Images from here and here


2 Responses to “the numbers game”

  1. 1 ptiongson April 6, 2009 at 00:51

    >>A colleague in Hong Kong remarked, “torture numbers, and they’ll tell you anything.”

    That’s true.

    The same holds for any other piece of research, news, event, phenomenon…

    It’s all perception. And our built-in biases…

  1. 1 propagandata « eskimon Trackback on July 20, 2009 at 17:14

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