Saturday, April 17, 2010

Surveys, statistics, lies and corruption

How often do we read a news report based on facts and figures and change something in our every day lives in order to gain or avoid a consequence of one kind or another. The news report stated this, then we do that. A TV reporter looks into the camera and tells us to avoid this intersection because of a terrible accident, we take another route traveling to work and arrive on time. That's a good report isn't it? Then we take that same reporter looking at a pile of papers concerning ice cream and the beach and swimming, warning us that people that eat ice cream and go to the beach and swim have a higher chance of drowning than if they didn't eat ice cream. Suddenly we think that eating ice cream causes drowning. Do you think that's a good report too? Actually, we can see that that's kind of a ridiculous report. But, believe me, reports like that do happen and with regularity too. We've all fallen victim to them.

I've been reading a book written by Darryl Huff concerning facts, figures and statistics and how they can be manipulated to obtain a desired result. Although it's a real eye opener, it only adds clarity to what I've believed for a long time. My 8 year old daughter brought home a beautiful little kitten one evening, she said the lady up the street was giving it away to a good home. She said, "It's the chance of a lifetime! If she doesn't take the kitten it'll probably die." Those two "facts" were based on her own special set of statistics in hopes of being able to keep the kitty. It worked! In the adult world statistics and figures of all kinds are manipulated in order that the group conducting the research achieves a favorable report. They use all sorts of methods to gain what they want.

Research regarding a health threat can bring millions of dollars in research money. It is beneficial to prove a link to whatever they intend to research and the health threat. Let's say a particular group of scientists wants to study water for future profitability. They don't have much money. They do a study. The study finds that every person that falls victim to a particular major illness "drinks water." They use the study to obtain millions of dollars in grants to study the connection between major illness and water. They study water and receive an income for years, spend the millions of dollars on research and no connection is found. However, as a by product of the research they do discover another, profitable use for water which they market and become millionaires.

A lawyer is defending his very guilty client in court. In order to keep his client from being convicted he must undermine the reputation of the only witness in this case. The witness is sworn in and the lawyer asks him a "loaded" question. "Mr. Howl," asks the lawyer. "Do you still beat you wife and lie? Answer the question, yes, or no!" The witness cannot answer the question yes or no without besmirching his own reputation. With either answer he loses and the jury makes a false conclusion.

A survey is conducted amongst 100 people. The question is: Have you ever been divorced?" 25 people answer yes. The second question asks: How many times have you been divorced? Most people answer once, some answer twice, still others answer three times or more, resulting is a total of 61 divorces in the group of 100 people. The survey was designed to determine how many marriages wound up in divorce. The answer reported in the final analysis was 61% of marriages wind up in divorce, thereby drawing a more dramatic but misleading conclusion.

Children come to school, find it difficult to concentrate, fall asleep and fail their classes. A survey is done that says most kids don't get breakfast. "Children can't concentrate if they don't have breakfast" the survey says. Billions of education dollars are spent to provide children with a free breakfast at school. After years of doing this the result is this. The same amount of children still can't concentrate, fall asleep and fail classes. Then survey data was and still is incorrect but the expenditure has benefited a lot of people. Except the children of course.

This is an interesting subject to me for a couple of reasons. Schools use surveys and statistics to obtain more money. The government uses surveys and statistics to obtain more tax money. Charities use surveys and statistics to show the need for us to give more money. Every organization uses some type of statistic or survey or other data to get what they want don't they?

Being aware of how facts and figures and surveys are conducted and manipulated goes a long way in what I decide to support. I think we'd be far ahead if we had a survey on how many surveys are corrupt................................Joe

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Truth or lie?

What do you say?

"Hey look, I just got back from traveling over a thousand miles to buy this used car down in Louisiana. I spent the high dollar for it because it's in almost perfect shape, the color is perfect, the engine is just what I wanted and the leather interior is really, really rare on this model. It took me over a year and a half to find it and it cost my entire saving and I had to borrow some too. I just love it! What do you think Joe? How do you like it? Come on, be honest now."

????? How would you handle that? The car has been abused. It's not a particularly appealing shade of green to me. The interior smells like a dead mouse. The engine has a reputation for blowing out head gaskets and costing thousands to repair and there are several places that show obvious botched cosmetic repairs. Do I tell the honest truth? This car is trashed. He's already laid out the money for it. He's already spent all the time and inconvenience traveling to retrieve this special car. How's he going to feel if I tell him it's junk?

"Honesty is the best policy!" We're always told. Yeah right! What if it wasn't a car we were talking about? What if it was some sort of elective, irreversible, cosmetic surgery? When it comes to books it is the critic's job to tell the truth as he/she sees it. Critic's are notoriously honest. I wonder if they are always so honest when it comes to other things? I wonder a lot of stuff sometimes. Honestly, I do!............................Joe

Monday, April 12, 2010

Writing lesson

Technically, I'm still taking a break from writing anything meaningful but this is a perfect time to sharpen my skills. I happened across a little pamphlet type of book published around the turn of the century, 1903 to be exact. Yellowed, frayed and faded, with several pages missing, this little treasure has obviously had some use over time. Scribbling on every page is in some sort of short hand I think, with symbols, numbers and lines making up the most of it. The pamphlet lays down the basics of writing short stories and articles. It suggests several exercises to hone one's writing abilities. I spent a few minutes dabbling with some of the ideas. At first I felt it was all about old methods probably no longer used in modern society. I found however, that the short, concentrated lessons were timeless actually. Each step highlighted certain components of an interesting story. How to present, describe, create and maintain interest, all that sort of thing. All in a book small enough to fit in my back pocket. Looking forward to putting the lessons into practice later in the day, I did just that, put it in my back pocket while I drove to and from different stores running weekly errands. When I was finished with the errands I learned another valuable lesson from that old writing pamphlet. Old, faded, yellowed, frayed books have another quality, they are very brittle and if they are put in your back pocket and sat upon they will turn into a million little bits of confetti.

Some lessons are timeless. One of the first lessons In the book was to do your research and pay attention to details or the entire story will fall apart. Kind of prophetic isn't it? It reminds me of an old proverb dating back eons, "You just can't fix stupid!" That's the way I felt while I emptied all the paper out my pocket.........................Joe
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