Lying Statistic: Beware, Numbers and Statistics Lie to you!

We live in a world of numbers. Everything can be expressed statistically or coded into numbers. Numbers in themselves are powerful and he who has the numbers has power. You may not have realized it, but even you do rely on numbers and statistics to make decisions.

For instance, you may prefer a product over another based only on a line you saw; ‘more than 75% homesteads use it’. But in this era of rampant fake news, you could just have easily been duped into believing it. Numbers are so influential that big corporations and governments subscribe to them to drive sales or a policy.

70% of Statistics are False

There is a famous quote that says “there are three types of lies; lies, damn lies, and statistics”. True to this statement, statistics availed to the masses have on numerous occasions been altered. In fact, I can dare say 70% of the statistics out there are either exaggerated or understated and cannot be scientifically proven. Whether this is done intentionally or just by accident is debatable. But the harm caused is much worse than the good it does.

Statistics in themselves are supposed to make life easier. You will have a better understanding of something if it is presented in statistics. You can, in turn, make a quick decision based on those statistics. Though it gets dangerous when errors or misunderstandings occur. For instance, you may hear of a new report saying brand X fries are heart friendly. Many will subscribe to that. The truth, however, is that all junk food is not good for your health, no matter how healthy they tell you it is.

False Statistics, What For?

Now, why would anyone decide to mess with statistics and, in the process, dupe or influence you? Well, it is only for one simple reason; For their own advantage. Think of it in this way: contestants in a political race will, by hook and crook, do everything possible to win, right? In order to get the most voters behind them, opinion polls come in handy. So if the poll says 60% of voters are behind candidate X, how many voters do you think will be influenced? In reality, the actual figures could be only 30%. The conflicting opinion poll results we often see only seal this statement; they are sponsored!

Mark Suster, a former entrepreneur once conducted a simple investigation. He had received a market report from different research companies. The report varied widely, so he called the companies and sought to know how each had gotten their data. To his shock, one analyst confided to him that they had only estimated from previous reports since the deadline was fast approaching and they had done nothing yet. Many research companies will do that, simply because it is a business for them. And for you to buy their reports, it must be favoring you or against your rival, right?

So What Now?

Well, now you know that not all statistics you see are verifiable and you may have been acting on so many lies. How then can you really tell if it’s genuine or not? Ask yourself these obvious questions:

  1. Who did this survey?
  2. Who is the obvious beneficiary? Remember, he who pays the piper determines the tune.
  3. What is the motive behind the survey?
  4. Who constituted of the sample set? Was it a biased sample? For instance, if you ask hungry people whether food should be free for all, how many do you think will say no?
  5. What do other surveys say?
  6. While not all statistics are false, the majority are. Take it upon yourself to determine the truth.

About Alex Muiruri

Alex is a passionate writer based in Kenya. He's also a professionally trained health officer and a great enthusiast of science and technology. Besides writing, he enjoys doing motivational speaking and possesses strong opinions on life. He's a lover of people and enjoys good company. He's also a devoted Christian, but respects the beliefs of others.

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