It dawned on me just yesterday. I was given a very funny remark at the point of reciting the world statistics on suicide rates and the remark was ” well, 80% of statistics are made up”. It was funny, and unfortunately true in many cases. When writing a scientific article, facts are checked several times, and ones data is validated by many critical peers asking to see the raw data at hand. At least to that extent we can be sure that the statistics we have are not made up. What later happens to them when they are subjected to statistical analysis is a whole other story. And to what extent the data is reliable is another one as well, but to the point of its existence, at least we can be sure that we have respondents, subjects and cross-referenced data.
But what about all the other data? As the same person pointed out that “how much of the data in presentations and market research is not made up, the general population rarely asks for references”. And to that extent I can agree, it is very simple to make up statistical results, give numbers that come from nowhere else but one’s own imagination. I did it a few months ago when we had to write a dummy report, and it was strangely enough very believable, and it was at the top of my head but was meant to sound reliable. So the next time you hear number being thrown at you in the local magazine without a proper reference to a study, ask your self this;
Did the person behind those numbers sit in front of a computer screen and tap in 10 000 answers in to SPSS, or did he/she wake up and decide that 42,5% of something sounded like it could be true.
What do you think?
I think we’ve been fooled, and I hope we won’t be any more.