Lies, damned lies and sta­tis­tics

The Weekly Advertiser Horsham - - New - BY DEAN LAW­SON

We’re not sure whether we should give credit to for­mer English Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Dis­re­ali for com­ing up with the ex­pres­sion or Amer­i­can author Mark Twain for mak­ing it pop­u­lar.

Re­searchers are di­vided and the source, es­pe­cially these days, is ir­rel­e­vant.

But the phrase ‘lies, damned lies and sta­tis­tics’ holds as true to­day as ever: as a re­flec­tion of how it’s pos­si­ble to ma­nip­u­late or ‘spin’ a mes­sage to the masses.

In the me­dia we see politi­cians, busi­nesses, or­gan­i­sa­tions and groups all try­ing to qual­ify or jus­tify roles,

po­si­tions and direc­tions or pro­mote ser­vices and prod­ucts based on what ap­pears to be ir­refutable facts.

It’s prob­a­bly a fair-enough tac­tic. In form­ing a po­si­tion to move for­ward there is of­ten a need for a start­ing point, foun­da­tion or trig­ger from where to es­tab­lish a pro­mo­tional po­si­tion.

Un­for­tu­nately, this po­si­tion can be driven more by philo­soph­i­cal, fi­nan­cial or other mo­ti­vat­ing fac­tors and raw data can some­times be eas­ily ma­nip­u­lated to veil im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tions.

The chal­lenge for the masses, as ra­tio­nal­is­ing humans, is to sort the wheat from the chaff, read the fine print and un­der­stand as best as pos­si­ble the big pic­ture. We tend to be all over this tac­tic and of­ten have a healthy cyn­i­cism when it comes to prod­uct and ser­vice sales.

Glar­ing ex­am­ples of this phe­nom­e­non also ooze from our seats of power.

We con­sis­tently hear how fig­ures show ‘be­yond doubt’ that govern­ment pol­icy is kick­ing all sorts of goals in meet­ing com­mu­nity needs.

There are al­ways a few red-flag words to be aware of when mes­sag­ing in­volves spruik­ing from ei­ther Melbourne or Can­berra.

A few we’re all too fa­mil­iar with are ‘lo­cal’, ‘re­gional’ and in more spe­cific cases, ‘Grampians’.

What these words can mean, with­out a fear of telling lies, can al­ways be based on con­text.

For ex­am­ple, be­ing ‘lo­cal’ de­pends on a point of view. It can be as far­di­vid­ing as re­flect­ing on some­one who grew up in the same street to some­one from the same country or even the planet.

‘Re­gional’ to some in the Wim­mera might sound in­clu­sive and in­volv­ing our part of the world. To oth­ers, in Vic­to­ria, it might mean or in­clude large provin­cial cities such as Gee­long, Bal­larat, Bendigo or even the out­skirts of Melbourne.

And ‘Grampians?’ We’ve com­mented on this be­fore and it is just as con­fus­ing.

When word about Grampians comes out of Spring Street in Melbourne there is a need to al­ways check whether the sub­ject in­volves com­mu­ni­ties liv­ing near the Grampians moun­tain range and na­tional park, or the mas­sive Grampians ad­min­is­tra­tive re­gion in­volv­ing a large per­cent­age of western Vic­to­ria.

As some would say, be­ware the ‘smoke and mir­rors’ and of course the ‘lies, damned lies and sta­tis­tics’.

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