Lies, damned lies, and statistics

That’s enough time spent dwelling on the book, don’t you think?  Ready for something else?  A bit on economics………….perhaps?  Anyway, there’s a link to book sales on the side-bar now……..

On numbers:

Much of our life is influenced by ‘THE statistical-type numbers we read about from the value of the dollar, the number of people employed, the number of immigrants, number of books sold, stock market indexes, barrels of oil, GDP and so on. We gather data and we gather data in the form of numbers and measurements.  We then ‘crunch’ them, sort them, analyze them, account for them and reconcile them.  And then we call all that ‘the economy’.  WE (the people) don’t actually do much of that crunching ourselves – not as individuals, anyway. Government does that for us.  It is the government that knows the economy.

And, to coin a phrase; government is an ass.

Seems most of the numbers we and other countries have been using for the longest time are woefully inadequate and completely out of date.  The leading indicators are not, in fact, leading us anywhere except into ignorance.  We collect more data than ever before but we then make it conform to a leading indicator model like GDP which is not an indicator of anything anymore.  We are making BIG GIANT policy with all the wrong numbers.

All this came to light in a flash of insight recently for the US Bureau of Statistics that concluded the above and then readjusted the US GDP overnight by $400 billion dollars. In a blink, their economy morphed into something different than it was the day before.

This kind of news is boring for most people and so it should be.  The leading indicators are lies and the statistics used to create them are damned lies.  And we don’t really listen to them anyway.  Most of us just know ‘in our bones’ that they are wrong or irrelevant and that the cost of living, for example, is rising higher than official Stats Canada says it is. We know they are lying.

“But why would StatsCan lie?”

Well, there are a lot of reasons, many of which are political. The main reason, however, is that it is in the nature of a bureaucracy NOT to change what it does and has been doing yet it is in the nature of human endeavours to change all the time.  Virtually all the leading indicator formulas were designed just before or soon after the second world war.  That is when the revised definitions of what constituted employment, what constituted a service and what was a product was more well defined and so were the metrics for measuring it all for the purpose of describing the economy and the world in which we live.

And then along came computers and other interesting inventions.  Not to mention a gazillion new types of business.  Everything changed, but the founding metrics didn’t.

For instance;  if you buy a car, that purchase is ‘measured’ as part of the country’s GDP. But if you plan to buy a car and drive around to look at them for two months, that effort is not.  Translated on a larger scale :Inventions that make it to market are measured, research and development is NOT measured.  Think how that lack might skew Harper’s appreciation for research and the sciences? 

And that is just one small example.  It was that kind of realization that had the US Bureau of Statistics revise their numbers – they had not been giving value to R&D.

But they screw up in other ways, too.  Interestingly, they eventually came to measure natural disasters as part of GDP.  In a weird way.  New Orleans gets wiped out – and no measurement is made that impacts GDP (they don’t subtract).  Then New Orleans is later rebuilt: the rebuilding is measured and makes a big impact on GDP. The fact that the state of Louisiana has had no net improvement (even after reconstruction) and has suffered a great interruption belies the truth of it all.

“So, why tell me all this?

Well, mostly because the leading indicators indicate virtually nothing useful anymore.  So don’t look at them too seriously.  But the reason I am so interested is because I have a tendency to compare what I feel, see and know to what I am being told.  And, of course, I have concluded that the great THEY don’t tell the truth.  Now I know that half of that untruth is simply bad accounting.  They don’t KNOW the truth!

And I already knew the other half was just purposeful propaganda.

Bottom line: you have to look around and see what you see, you have to let your own senses tell you what’s what.  If you rely on StatsCan, the stock market indexes, the dollar, the price of real estate, you are, at best, getting a very inaccurate picture.

Probably the greatest single example (until recently) of a  major real-life indicator still unmeasured has been the air and water.  GDP would grow but liveability would diminish and even breathability was suffering in really bad places like big cities in China.  Rivers were and still are dying.  But health and well-being (nature or human) wasn’t measured and factored into any kind of economic metric.  Air and water weren’t ‘owned’ or taxed and so they weren’t measured.  A healthy river is NOT given a value nor is a polluted one.

Ergo: who cares?  Harper calls those who care about immeasureables,’ radicals’.

People measured particulates per million in our air and water but not in relation to human economic output. If it wasn’t linked to economics it wasn’t really measured.  Or valued anyway.  If it is not measured, it is ignored. And so China stupidly continued to poison it’s citizens and countryside blind to the cost of the cloud of poison in the sky and rivers. Until it was almost too late.  Maybe it is too late.  That scenario still has to play out.

“Is this an environmental rant?”

No.  This is simply a blog about lies, damned lies and statistics.  There would be no point, it seems, from believing any so-called facts from the likes of our official fact-deliverers (for the average Canadian that means media and politicians).  In other words: everything the media, the government, StatsCan, Prime Minister, Premier, Auditor General, Bank of Canada says is wrong and I think we can extrapolate that kind of mistake-sharing to all corporations, institutions and all officialdom.

Lesson: conduct your learning and thinking on your own and make your life decisions as if THEY (govt. et al) are purposefully lying, using the wrong numbers and/or are measuring the wrong things….’cause they are!

6 thoughts on “Lies, damned lies, and statistics

  1. Interesting.
    I remember hearing a statistician being interviewed on the radio years ago about all sorts of curious Stats.
    When he was asked, “What is the safest color car on the road to drive?” ie What color of car is involved in the fewest accidents? His immediate reply was , ” Pink!” . So… statistically speaking, if you drive a pink car your chances of being in an accident are virtually nil….. I cant say I’ve seen any Mary Kay Cosmetic Cadillacs in about 30 years so I guess he was “right”…..
    Statistics. Take it with a grain of salt.
    The “stats” that I see almost nightly on Global “News” spewed forth as if they are gospel is the regurgitated drivel from Realtors.
    Global “News” never issues a disclaimer that ALL their Weather and usually half the “News” hours is “brought to you by Remax” . Realtors that are interviewed as if what they are saying is fact when in actuality its opinion about the real estate markets. It doesnt matter if the real numbers show that houses in every major city in Canada are dropping in value. That sales are plummeting. That listings are skyrocketing. ( Too few buyers and more people realising they waited too long before putting their house /condo up for sale).Realtors continually pump their product. Which is house sales. Its ALWAYS a great time to buy. They are salesmen. Nothing more.
    What they are doing is unethical and its bordering on fraud.
    Dont believe me?
    Almost nightly on Global 6pm ‘News” they have a 2 minute “rah rah” pro real estate story follwed by a commercial brought to you by Remax. Disgusting if it wasnt so patheticly biased.
    Who cares that ebola has killed over 10,000 people and is still spreading in Africa ? Who cares about the slow grinding war in the Ukraine by Russian troops? Who cares about 17,600 Canadians that lost their jobs at Target? Who cares about the thousands in the oil patch that have been laid off since Christmas? And on and on and on.
    Those “bad” stories might recieve a 30 second play.
    Propaganda to keep the masses feeling good and buying cars, tv’s, washing machines, whatever.
    There is going to be an ugly real estate reckoning in the Lower Mainland and the realtors/media/govt are directly involved. So no blame will be attributed to anyone involved.
    Caveat Emptor. Let the Buyer beware.
    Even though the buyer is lied to, misinformed and led down the garden path.
    Ive seen real estate meltdowns first hand and it aint pretty. Entire subdivisions empty and no banks loaning a dime for a mortgage. Those with cash will do ok. Those without will lose everything. I sold 2 years ago. The buyers spent another $250,000 renovating. The new houses on that same street are selling for the same price I sold for 2 years ago. The market is done. Stick a fork in it.
    Im renting and waiting.
    Remax propaganda be damned.


  2. “But why would StatsCan lie?” It’s not lying exactly it’s just that the Conservatives changed the way that StatsCan gathers data. Data collection under the Conservatives is no longer useful for comparing old StatsCan data with the new collection method. Apples are not oranges so little to compare but it does point to the unscientific ethos emoted by the Conservatives. As in global warming is a myth, fisheries are not in trouble myth, their against pricing carbon attitude, not joining the kyoto protocol and the list is lengthly. Science is baaad.


    • The Cons are bad, no doubt. Really bad. The worst, actually. But all the leading indicators are no longer indicating much of anything whether they are manipulated or ignored or whatever. We have just ‘evolved’ our economy to the point that the old metrics don’t work anymore. Unemployment figures are as useless as the cost of living indicators. Anyone buying a house in BC can tell you that. Adding to the weirdness is the disparity in perceived value. I can buy a complicated, sophisticated,smart cell phone (a few years old) for the price of gourmet burger…how does that make any sense? One can actually buy a car that still runs for less money than four people going for a fancy dinner!!?? New clothes at Costco for the price of a beer at a pub!? How do we ‘compare’ values anymore? Hint: NOT by listening to the official number crunchers, that’s for sure.


      • True too true data gets out of date and I agree with you. Scientific trends do count but the smear campaign says in effect, “Science is wrong!” Hence the rapidly detereorating state of our fisheries and our climate. Statistics count big time.


  3. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. There is a lot to be said for being contrary to ordinary. Keep up the good work



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