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Lying: is statistics really the culprit?

Tuesday, 3rd December 2013

I was at an event at the ABS last week and the issue of lying with statistics came up twice in two speeches. In the first it was about the inappropriate use of scale on a chart which leads to an inflated impression of change over time.  In the second reference was made to the book "How to lie with statistics" and the fact things have not changed.

 

I was struck by the thought that the issue is not that people use numbers or statistics to lie.  After all we are lied to all the time - just look at most advertising.  In fact on the weekend I saw a prime example in a tag line "experience the future today!".  Obviously this is not possible, but we all understand and deal with that misleading statement.

 

So the issue really comes down to the fact that when we are presented with numbers or charts we have a tendency to suspend our critical thinking and accept them at face value rather than subjecting them to the same degree of scrutiny we would apply to a stated argument.

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