Numbers Never Lie, But People Sometimes Do

Numbers Never Lie, But People Sometimes Do

It's an interesting paradox that, when we read a declarative statement or quote from an "unnamed source," we are likely to question its veracity.

But we often take numerical statements at face value - even though economists and others may have decided to "torture the data until it confesses" the truth they wish revealed.

Enron was able to falsely create a huge market value simply because no one questioned their numbers
Earlier in my career I did a course on editing and marking up copy for print. One sentence said “...the 7,640 feet high Golden Gate bridge in Washington state is one of the most beautiful in the world.”
 
Twenty out of twenty students corrected the text to relocate the bridge to its rightful place in California. Only one refused to accept that the bridge was over a mile tall. Perhaps the fact that I was an accountant caused me to take that number - and all numbers I read - with a grain of salt.

And that’s what we want for our learners: an appropriate dose of skepticism, and no undue reverence for stated figures. You’ve heard of alternative facts. Well there are also plenty of "alternative numbers." 
 
I read this week that toxic bosses cost the U.S. economy $21B a year in lost productivity. Who on earth came up with the number? And how would they know? After all, 24.53% of statistics are made up on the spot.

With my best wishes for a healthily skeptical week. 
 
Peter
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Even numbers which are factually correct can be twisted to support misleading conclusions