Posts Tagged ‘groundhog day’

We all depend on numbers, even those of us who are math-challenged. Numbers count, measure, organize, or label.  But when people say numbers don’t lie, buyer beware. Numbers don’t lie and guns don’t kill but weapons can be discharged and numbers can be manipulated.

“What Are the Odds a Handy, Quotable Statistic Is Lying? Better Than Even” is the title of a review of a book called “The Numbers Game” and it goes to show how deceiving numbers can be when they’re bundled as statistics and given a context. The idea, as the reviewer points out, is to make us a little smarter about statistics.

This is not to diminish the efficiency or importance of data gathering or the increasing sophistication with which statisticians refine their science but rather to look further at how numbers are used, not by pollsters but by politicians, pundits and our own sorry brains, to confirm our deepest suspicions or our worst fears. As “The Numbers Game” authors point out, it’s up to humans to define what it is we’d like our numbers to count, measure, organize, or label. Numbers can teach us if we know what it is we’d like to learn – or what we’d like to believe.

So what do some of the numbers tell us? For example, I’d like to know:

  • If a stimulus package that began at 600 billion dollars is suddenly approaching nearly a trillion dollars, how do we measure the effects of the delays deemed necessary to make the cuts that shouldn’t have been necessary to make but now clearly are?
  • If, due to a 7% unemployment rate, states need to borrow to cover unemployment insurance, how do states get out of debt?
  • If the Senate is normally made up of 100 individuals but is now made up of 99 because of one contested seat and if one other (Democratic) Senator is not voting because he’s ailing and if a third (Democratic) Senator appears to be on the verge of ailing and if there appear to be somewhere between three and four moderate Republicans who might be willing to vote with the Democratic majority on occasion, how do we measure the chances of meaningful legislation passing in the first 100 days of this new Administration?
  • If the amount in taxes owed by three Presidential nominees is one-third the cost of a private jet or a bundle of bonuses procured or dispensed by bailed-out bank corporations, how might we measure the effectiveness of dumping the nominees versus the effectiveness of dumping CEOs running companies benefiting from government largess.
  • If Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow on Groundhog Day over in Pennsylvania but Staten Island Zoo’s Charles V. Hogg didn’t (instead Chuck, in a fit of pique, bit Mayor Bloomberg of New York ), how many more days of this god-awful winter can we expect here in Central Jersey?

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