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The Editor Speaks: Do you believe in statistics?

colin-wilsonweb2If you are a politician with an election brewing and statistics show the cost of living is improving you believe them if you are the government and tout them for all your are worth.

If on the other hand you are the government opposition, backbenchers, or whatever you want to call them, wannabee MLA’s who do not belong to the political party in power, you cast as much doubt as you can on them.

You bring in as many of your supporters, let them shout at your meetings the statistics are not true, get them to call in the radio talk shows and say the same thing and you have cast doubts.

It doesn’t matter you haven’t got a cent of proof in what you are saying but shout it loud enough, and long enough and people will start to believe you.

Even though the election is over six months away, and in USA politics that would mean it is just around the corner, the opposition groups are already getting armed.

At a West Bay meeting recently called by the Cayman Democratic Party (formerly the United Democratic Party before it became disunited) various people did just that with mighty applause (well as much could be mustered from the number of people who attended). They poured scorn on the stats asking people to put their hands in their pocket and see if they had as much change left as they did when the UDP were in power?

It doesn’t matter that the stats are not prepared by the government of the day but by civil servants because it is government who deliver them to the public.

We are in the Week of Statistics and stats are fun, if you believe the 34 high school students at Wesleyan Christian Academy – see today’s iNews Cayman story “Statistics Week Counts as Fun”.

Americans LOVE statistics.

It doesn’t matter what it is. There are stats for everything except how many killings do police officers do in a year? No one has bothered to keep tabs of that one!

But if it is a sports game or an election coming up we know everything from how many times a baseball player touches his cap with his right hand, his left hand, whether it is one finger or more, and how many presidents have been elected when the first count was called in a state the nominated president lived in.

Total rubbish but it is FUN to know this. Isn’t it?

However, if you are in the media and you support a political party you can dupe the public with a few artfully chosen stats.

A New York University professor called Charles Seife who defines the term as “the art of using bogus mathematical arguments to prove something that you know in your heart is true – even when it’s not.”

Have you noticed how many studies we have here in this small country? And have you actually read them and all the figures of the stats that are contained in these studies. The pretty graphs full of numbers.

And then we have all the health stats. You will be informed of some new study showing that you are 23 per cent more likely to die of heart disease before you are 75 if you don’t eat vegetable X three times a week.

And now we are getting towards the end of our Atlantic Hurricane Season we will be comparing the actual numbers of our storms against the guestimates from the various meteorological institutes.

And it is not just one figure. 12 actual against 13 guessed. Oh no. We have the number of storms, how many will become hurricanes and major hurricanes, and how many will hit the US mainland. Note the last part of the sentence.

When they can’t get the speed right or the actual projected path right within 24 hours of the storm hitting all the guestimates are pointless.

I was reading an article on stats today when it made a very good point why soccer will never become the number one sport in the US. And it is because of stats. You see soccer has proved impossible to reduce to numbers. The writer says, “Sure, the Americans are trying. This year’s World Cup drew a blizzard of statistics, from the number of assists to pass-completion rates and total passes by individual players. But to no avail. Soccer provides psychological truth. But there’s only so much number-crunching you can do with a 0-0 draw, followed by a penalty shoot-out.”

The writer finally takes solace that his ill wife is being taken care of in the “eighth best hospital in all the USA.”

And when I see in the stats put out by the Travel Industry or some silly media house that the Cayman Islands is NOT the #1 BEST destination in the Caribbean I don’t believe those statistics at all.

And if you live here, neither should you!!!


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