Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Damn Lies Via Statistics

Statistics don't have to lie. Merely reporting on statistics offers more than enough prospects for lying - or, at least, spinning a story to the reporter's preconceived bias. It's just a matter of choosing one end or the other of the telescope to view through.

Consider, for example, a story from today's Politico titled "237 millionaires in Congress." The scandalized writer notes that
"Two-hundred-and-thirty-seven members of Congress are millionaires. That’s 44 percent of the body – compared to about 1 percent of Americans overall."
This might strike you as a telling bit of news. You may even snort derisively at the comparison to "Americans overall", if you see the world as the reporter does.

But if you'll think about it, the real story here is that in an era where a kid five years out of law school pulls in $250K/year, where a million bucks buys no better than a studio apartment in a marginal Manhattan nabe, and where a modestly successful small businessman can easily be worth well over $1M, it's remarkable that over 50% of Congressmen - who've attained the very height of power and achievement - are
not millionaires. More than half of Congress can't afford a decent two bedroom NYC apartment?!?

Always try flipping the telescope when a journalist tries to make a point via statistics!

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