Insomnia Log

This is what keeps me awake at night???

Who needs sleep? (well you’re never gonna get it)
Who needs sleep? (tell me what’s that for)
Who needs sleep? (be happy with what you’re getting,
There’s a guy who’s been awake since the second world war)

-- words and music by Steven Page & Ed Robertson

Location: Boulder, Colorado, United States

Everything you need to know about me can be found in my posts

Friday, February 03, 2006

Fun with Numbers

In my high school physics class, I discovered something called "dry labbing". When you dry lab, you figure out how the experiment is supposed to turn out, then you log results in your lab notebook that correspond to what you figured out (rather than having to go through the entire exercise). I reasoned that it wasn't a real science experiment anyway, because we were just demonstrating a well-known principle, rather than trying to find out something new. Also, you had to understand the material better to make up the results than you would to just write down what happened. Not to mention that for a clumsy adolescent science is never repeatable.

Needless to say, I only got to do this once, before I learned another valuable lesson that had nothing to do with physics. The lesson is, anybody can fudge the numbers, and in doing so can prove just about anything they want. Or, as Benjamin Disraeli said, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."

For example, take politics. In his recent State of the Union address, President Bush said, "Every year of my presidency, we've reduced the growth of non-security discretionary spending." Come on, now, how long did he and his speech writers have to think before coming up with something that sounded positive and couldn't later be shown to be wrong?

Here's the recipe:
  • First, decide what point you want to prove.

  • Second, come up with some numbers (it doesn't matter what or from where) that are related to your point.

  • Third, state your point, along with the numbers, in close proximity, with conviction.

  • Repeat the third step as required, until your numbers are accepted as a given and your point is accepted as the logical conclusion of your numbers.
Another example is the economic case for/against tax cuts. It's been proven that tax cuts improve the economy. It's also, coincidentally, been proven that tax cuts are bad for the economy.

What's the lesson? Well, I guess it is that when somebody is able to prove their point with statistics, they are probably hiding more than they are showing.

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