"Lies, damned lies, and statistics."
"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."
-Benjamin Disraeli, popularized by Mark Twain
Concerning the public induction of facts from mere data points: “There are three kinds of lies - Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics.” It works on a principle of distraction and comparison, warping the way people perceive objective reality. That’s why, even with statistical support, opinions are still subjective - perhaps even more so, because they report a single interpretation of an intentionally selected and disseminated set of data by people with vested interests in propagating their favorite version of reality.
Critical thinking trumps PR produced statistics every time when it comes to discerning truth in a society that runs on mystification and obfuscation. Its really the only tool we have left.
I recently responded to a post by a friend that I respect highly (Twitter @DCCOX) discussing presidential contributions to the national debt, Obama’s week and a half vacation during a crisis, and other sources of criticism thrown at the two political power-parties. My point is that, even when you can cite hard facts to support a case, politics are filtered so heavily by PR and political-class interests that these “statistical facts” are only called upon to support pre-conceived agendas. These interests are shared across party lines and dominate most of centralized media reporting. The media spins facts into a positive light, sure, but they also affect public discourse by choosing what not to report on, which facts and perspectives to omit entirely or bury- out of sight is out of mind - http://bit.ly/p4oKBA. Then public amnesia takes over, and the next sensationalist spectacle crowds out our capacity to think about more than one or two big (i.e. wedge) issues at a time.
A prime example are so-called “wedge issues” (e.g. abortion, gay marriage, minimum wage, embryonic stem-cell research, an immigration) which are meant to shuffle voters between the two parties on fairly inconsequential policy matters, crowding out new, bipartisan or transpartisan ideas from filtering into the discourse. This takes air-time and print-space from the most popular and respected media outlets away from focusing on policy issues that are of more importance to American citizens on polls - Employment, the budget deficit, healthcare, foreign war, and education. Not to mention civil liberties - http://bit.ly/oACkbJ. Statistics of their own, of course, but at least they aren’t coming directly out of PR departments, flooding these data points into obscurity. Simply put, the discourse is shifted to polls and speeches and platforms that focus on the wedge issues, which is the right political move to get voters to swing across party lines, and the wrong move for good governance of a great yet systemically flawed country.
What you have left are lies (the spins), damn lies (the omissions), and statistics (that which distracts reasonable people from bothering to think critically about their society).