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EDITORIAL: Lies, damned lies and statistics


We’re not sure whether we should give credit to former English Prime Minister Benjamin Disreali for coming up with the expression or American author Mark Twain for making it popular.

Researchers are divided and the source, especially these days, is irrelevant.

But the phrase ‘lies, damned lies and statistics’ holds as true today as ever: as a reflection of how it’s possible to manipulate or ‘spin’ a message to the masses.

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In the media we see politicians, businesses, organisations and groups all trying to qualify or justify roles, positions and directions or promote services and products based on what appears to be irrefutable facts.

It’s probably a fair-enough tactic. In forming a position to move forward there is often a need for a starting point, foundation or trigger from where to establish a promotional position.

Unfortunately, this position can be driven more by philosophical, financial or other motivating factors and raw data can sometimes be easily manipulated to veil important considerations.    

The challenge for the masses, as rationalising humans, is to sort the wheat from the chaff, read the fine print and understand as best as possible the big picture. We tend to be all over this tactic and often have a healthy cynicism when it comes to product and service sales.

Glaring examples of this phenomenon also ooze from our seats of power. 

We consistently hear how figures show ‘beyond doubt’ that government policy is kicking all sorts of goals in meeting community needs.

There are always a few red-flag words to be aware of when messaging involves spruiking from either Melbourne or Canberra.

A few we’re all too familiar with are ‘local’, ‘regional’ and in more specific cases, ‘Grampians’. 

What these words can mean, without a fear of telling lies, can always be based on context.

For example, being ‘local’ depends on a point of view. It can be as far-
dividing as reflecting on someone who grew up in the same street to someone from the same country or even the planet.

‘Regional’ to some in the Wimmera might sound inclusive and involving our part of the world. To others, in Victoria, it might mean or include large provincial cities such as Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo or  even the outskirts of Melbourne.

And ‘Grampians?’ We’ve commented on this before and it is just as confusing. 

When word about Grampians comes out of Spring Street in Melbourne there is a need to always check whether the subject involves communities living near the Grampians mountain range and national park, or the massive Grampians administrative region involving a large percentage of western Victoria.

As some would say, beware the ‘smoke and mirrors’ and of course the ‘lies, damned lies and statistics’.

The entire July 31, 2019 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!

The entire July 31, 2019 edition of AgLife is available online. READ IT HERE!