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Morning Sun
  • OUR VIEW: Beware the dangers of information

  • “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” -- popularized by Mark Twain. With the presidential campaign in full swing, there’s a lot of information that gets thrown out by one candidate or another’s campaign. Or, now that Citizens United has allo...
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  • “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” -- popularized by Mark Twain.
    With the presidential campaign in full swing, there’s a lot of information that gets thrown out by one candidate or another’s campaign. Or, now that Citizens United has allowed “independent” spending to reach unprecedented levels, it may not even be the campaign or the candidate.
    For instance, Americans for Prosperity brought their “Obama’s Failing Agenda” bus to Pittsburg this week.
    Americans for Prosperity is technically a non-profit group. They say they don’t take political sides and are only interested in fighting anyone who spends more than the country takes in, and who expands the presence of government. They say that they would be this vocal if a Republican were in office and expanding the role of government or even the deficit.
    We truly doubt that. The group’s web site indicates it formed in 2004, and we don’t recall any bus tours about “Bush’s Failing Agenda” when he was racking up debt and expanding the role of government. But we digress.
    One of the facts on the side of their bus was that unemployment has been over 8 percent for 43 straight months under President Obama. What was lost in the debate afterglow on Friday was that the unemployment rate did drop below 8 percent for the first time in the Obama presidency, to 7.8 percent. Americans for Prosperity will need to find a new fact for their bus.
    But several notable Republicans announced that they didn’t believe the newest unemployment rate. They accused Obama of cooking the books, so to speak.
    Setting aside the sheer implausibility and cynicism of those statements, the statistic of the unemployment rate has become a partisan talking point.
    Furthermore, the debates alone have been a victim of statistics.
    Gov. Romney said that the Congressional Budget Office believes 20 million will lose their health insurance under Obamacare. Sounds powerful. Sounds like a terrible indictment of the president. But it’s not, because it’s not true. According to politifact.com, the number is actually 3 million. And that’s 3 million who “lose” their insurance from their employer because they are choosing health care through the new exchanges created by Obamacare. All told, the CBO predicts the number of uninsured in America will drop from 31 million to 29 million. Beware the statistics.
    President Obama was guilty of this, too. He said that if Obamacare were to be repealed, that 50 million people would lose their health insurance.
    First of all, the studies he was referring to meant the number was really 30-32 million, and second, that’s worst-case scenario. Beware the statistics.
    But the problem is that it’s hard to tell what information is right and what information is wrong. This is similar to our “truth” editorial several weeks ago.
    Page 2 of 2 - When both sides use statistics that sound true and sound honest, but aren’t, it creates many problems.
    First, it weaponizes information. Statistics, properly used, can be as sharp as a scalpel or as weighty as a bludgeon.
    Second, when candidates use all sorts of statistics, whether honest or misleading, it creates a doubt and mistrust of the information being offered.
    Third, statistics can be made to argue anything. Just ask anyone into sabermetrics, popularized by “Moneyball.” Baseball statistics are wonderful at providing cherry-picked information or stats as viewed through a prism. But political statistics are no different, no matter what “team” one is on.
    But the worst part of politics is the cynicism it breeds in voters. When each party uses statistics that aren’t exactly truthful, it creates a society in which mistrust exists not just of politicians, but anyone in government.
    When a mistrust exists, it dissuades people from taking an active, interested part in not only their national government, but the trickle-down effect is true, as well.
    Unlike Twain, we know that statistics aren’t inherently negative. But we do know that they can be dangerous in the wrong hands.
    We assume that leaders have knowledge that we don’t have and don’t have time to look up. When they use statistics poorly, it shows exactly what happens when one assumes.
    — The Morning Sun
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