Thursday, October 16, 2014

Statistics - the third lie

It was once famously said, there are three kinds lies in this world.

1. Lies
2. Damn lies
3. Statistics

We see newspapers and news sites dumped with statistics through out. There is virtually nothing that cannot be measured these days. Throw the word "Science" or "Scientific" into the mix. Its just a truth booster to fool the reader. What happens to be a western phenomenon of forcing a public opinion by polls and statistics, is now creeping into the developing world like ours.

It is common in developed countries to publish results of opinion polls which generate curiosity rather than real substance. If you open any newspaper or a news website, I can guarantee you that you see an section for poll. I always wonder if they are held accountable for the results. They usually do not publish how the poll was conducted and how many people were part of it, and how they arrived at the results. They just assume the readers is sucked into the assumption that the poll is originally right and reflects its depiction of the result. He just has to accept that at face value. Most of the time its just a propaganda news item. It is common in western countries to ask a sample size of people, about the job satisfaction level of the President or the Prime Minister. They come up numbers usually in percentages to highlight its accuracy. They make attractive headlines based on the poll, and fill the first page of the newspaper. The initial euphoria would be mostly gone by the end of the day and will fade fully in next couple of days. The sales probably increased. And few days pass by - no one hardly remembers and truly no one cares. In next three months, they repeat the whole damn thing again. What is really the intent of these polls. Who is the beneficiary of the effort. Is it to arm-twist the political class by the media? I have also seen instances where the results are completely off between two news media outlets. One would say the President has a 80% approval ratings and another would say 25% percent. Most likely, both are completely wrong. They are just obeying their respective masters. You could just change the channel based on what results you like. who owns these polls - who acknowledges the findings? It is always self propaganda. It is basically paid news. The media outlets are paid by people who benefit with the publication of such a poll "result". A significant section of the people really think these results as gospels of truth. They are simply being manipulated by the ruling class establishments. A free market would eventually weed out the bad apples - but until then it is frustratingly insulting human intelligence for a by-stander.

A poll would come up with a statement saying the President has 45% job approval rating. An ideal way would be to ask each and every citizen in the country and get a Yes / No answer of this simple question - Is the President doing a good job? You count them out and stick a percentage value to it with respect to the total. This effort needs a lot of people and funds. No media outlet can afford to do that. So they now depend on what is sugar-coated as "scientific" approaches. They come up a sample size - what they think represents the citizens of the country. It is bare minimum that they could afford to spend. Ask them the same questions and project the results over. Isn't that stupid? They sample size selection is so complex and twisted, that as an ordinary man - you just can't understand it. A research fellow would justify why this approach is right highlighting some theories. What is happening is just guessing. It is paid news. The persons who benefit from the polls, fund and orchestrate the process. It is just mind boggling that those things are takes seriously and are accepted at face value. It is never questioned. The establishments take advantage of that and make the people get to think like the way they think. A normal person is sucked in to this design. The build up to the war on Iraq citing weapons of mass destruction is a classic example of manipulating the masses through the media. The opinions of the ruling class was slowly and carefully percolated into the American people. The tactics was done systematically and people were scared so much into the WMD story, that they thought something was imminently bad and the only way out was to bomb Iraq. Whatever happened next is history.

The other recent example of changing the public opinion by controlling the media was the Scottish independence referendum - to see if they can leave the union of the UK. Right towards the day of the vote, pretty much all the local and world media scarred the hell of the scots, with the adverse consequence of voting "Yes". It is a general feeling the No won with a larger lead because of this. There is free and fair elections but its outcome is not. Actual processing of vote is not rigged probably - but the people are being channelized into sections that is not allowed to have a different opinion than its ruling masters. 

The opinions, projections, expectations, consumer confidence numbers - all these are common jargons in business news items. World economy is perceived to run based on these numbers.  It is very common that you hear - the IMF has changed the growth projections of next year from x percentage to y percentage. lets parse this a little bit. First of all It is an admission of the IMF that its earlier projection was wrong. Only because of this, is it forced to revise now. If it is revised now - what is the guarantee that it will not be revised again next time. If Yes, why would we need this projection? At least don't call them "projected" results. These things happen so often in business news, that people don't even realize that they are being fooled to fill up the news columns. If projections keep on changing - why even predict it. We can wait for the actual occurrence to happen and measure them in hind sight. Polls about consumer confidence is just another stat, that is beyond reasoning. How do you measure confidence of people, say of your family members ? Do they really matter. I am sure, the confidence goes up and down every other day or even within a day. How could a consumer confidence number be arrived it? Is it really tangible ? How did you arrive at a consolidated number that represents everyone in a country? The way in which the current modern economies operate - there is place for this nonsense. When this whole bubble economy collapses, the right questions would be asked. It would make us all feel so ashamed we lived through these. It is just surprising. that people just don't question these idiotic numbers and their source. People have to questions these logics.

It should be a habit of the publishers to convey news stories as "they are". Not the way they want it to look like. In the world we live in now - the people are just not smart to differentiate this. It will not be long that they come to senses either.


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