Beware the Lies, Damned Lies and Stats!

Facts, figures and statistics – we’re
bombarded with them. We just came though another election and most of us were
inundated with political ads. It’s amazing how two candidates can talk about
the same facts in such different ways. Democrats touted lower unemployment and
a rising stock market. Republicans debated the legitimacy of both claims when
it came to helping people and the economy. Had the tables been turned and Republicans
been in power they’d have bragged about the declining unemployment rate and all
time highs in the stock market. And it’s very likely the Democrats would have debated those same facts.
Another example; sometimes we hear that average
household income is up. On the surface that’s good. However, if you dig a
little deeper and realize the increase only went to a very few people at the
top and that most people’s income was stagnant or lower, would it still be such
a good thing? Not if you’re in the mass of people who are not benefitting.
As noted earlier, the stock market is at an
all-time high. Again, a good thing on the surface but if the growth in revenue
and profits isn’t leading to job creation then are we (or at least the
majority) really better off?
I’ll never forget seeing the debate over a
potential increase in the state tax for Illinois. One group said it was a 66%
increase and another group said it was a 2% increase. And both were right. The
state tax was 3% and the proposed increase to 5% was raising it two percentage
points but people would pay 66% more in state income tax compared to what
they’d pay without the increase.
I hope you can see statistics can be used to
portray whatever someone wants you to believe. I won’t say it’s unethical
because in each instance facts are being shared but the vantage point can make
all the difference. Two homes could look out over the same land but can have
very different views depending on where each home sits. And so it is with stats.
Mark Twain once said there were lies, damned lies and statistics. His point was simply
this; sometimes facts and figures can be used to justify the position of the
person communicating. As noted earlier, all you need to do is listen to
politicians from opposite sides of the aisle to realize this. They may talk
about the very same issue and you’d think they were from different planets.
You’ll get some very diverse viewpoints if you scan CNN, MSNBC and Fox.
What does this mean for you? Simple; don’t
take everyone or everything at face value. Ask questions, dig a little deeper
into the claims being made, occasionally play devil’s advocate. In doing so
you’ll give yourself a fuller picture and better opportunity to make the best
decision possible.
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Chief Influence Officer


Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.
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