Is The Data Deluge ‘Hosing’ The Results?

I grew up with a close-knit family, and knew, for a while at least, my great-grandfather on my mother’s side of the family, as well as a plethora of great-aunts and great-uncles, and the numerous cousins they produced. My family was not especially philosophical, but all the members were very good at repeating all the truisms and conventional wisdom of the years gone past.

One of the truisms of my grandfather’s day was ‘Figures don’t lie, but any liar can figure!’ For those who don’t completely grasp the meaning, it states that although valid figures may not change, those doing the interpreting can make results appear more than one way.

I fear that this is exactly what is happening in much of our lives today.

The economy is currently in a state of depression, so many things are in disarray, and yet there are those that can make it look as though those observations are invalid, with the very same figures used to prove the depression.

For example, the price of gasoline is up 21 cents in the past 3 weeks, according to CNN, yet there are those who will obfuscate the issue with observations, no less valid, that, gasoline is, for most, a small part of their economic outlay each month. That is certainly how it must be presented to The President. He certainly seems to think it is no big deal – after all, it is a very, very small part of his cash outlay each month, with a salary, only a part of his total income, of $400,000 per year, and all his transportation needs taken care of by the taxpayers. For those in jobs where the commute is an hour or more each way, the amount of change in gas prices is creating a very real problem, no matter what their base pay, or fuel economy of their vehicle.

One of the things that this administration has pressed upon the public, during its entire run, is the very low unemployment rate. Touting that has given them a great deal of satisfaction, believing that the numbers are somehow indicative of the efficacy of monetary policies. The part that few apparently know is that after one has been unemployed for a certain time (it varies by reason for the unemployment) that person simply drops from the calculations. For those calculations, these long unemployed become non-existent.

These ‘incomplete’ calculations are simply done too frequently everyday, in every facet of life. It allows the presenter with an imagination to present concrete data, so as to not be refuted, but the resulting calculations skew in the direction the presenter wishes.

It is this type of presentation that is done today all too frequently, ranging from the government to television news, to cast doubt on the veracity of global warming, to attack attempts to make changes, and to manipulate the will of the people. Facts have always made it possible for those who wished, to sway the views of many, but the quantity of information available today makes the verification of some data nearly impossible. Coupled with the acceptance of the public to knowledge of any type, and the distress of the problem becomes grave.

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