Rodney M Bliss

Don’t Fall For The Third Type of Lie

There are three types of lies, lies, d*mn lies and statistics.
– Mark Twain

Facts don’t lie, right?

Well, facts might not, but the analysis done with them certainly can.

Consider this simple example. Suppose the average age at the time of death for citizens of a village is 30 years old. (This is a fact.)

And suppose also that one dies at the age of 30. (This is also a fact.)

Fake news, right? How can the two facts both be true?

In 1840 the average age of death in England was 29. That seems terribly short, don’t you think? People must have “grown up quickly. And middle age must have been unheard of. Why someone who was 35 would be an old man. . .or woman.

And yet, many people lived into their 60’s. How?

Infant mortality rate.

I was once invited to the birthday party for a friend’s two year old daughter. The family was polynesian. The party was immense. Easily a couple hundred people. A whole pig was roasted. They held it in a park.

Wow, this is some party. Why such a big deal for a two year old?

Historically, on the island, a huge number of babies died in infancy. If a child made it to their second birthday, you could assume they were going to survive to adulthood.

Suddenly the party didn’t seem so happy and exciting. It was the remains of a tragic legacy.

In the 1840’s about a third of babies born died as infants. Averages are funny things.

We are watching the end of a pretty unpleasant election here in the United States. I was having a discussion with a friend about how the incumbant did this year vs four years ago.

Clearly he lost support. In 2016 he lost by 3 million votes. This year he lost by over 6 million. Clearly he lost worse than last time!

Yes, but last time he received 63 million votes. This time he received 74 million votes. His support increased by 11 million votes!

The numbers in that example are correct. The facts, if you will, are not disputed. However, the analysis cannot both be correct. (I’m not going to try to convince you here one is more correct than the other.)

Is 100 degrees farenheit hot or cold? A temperature is a fact. You can measure it and reproduce it. But, the analysis; hot or cold; is not.

If you are measuring the temperature during the day, 100 degrees is hot. If you are measure the temperature of an running automobile engine, then 100 degrees is very cold.

So, the next time someone tries to insist something is face news, that it couldn’t possibly be true, remember that you can drown walking across a lake that has an average depth of 3 feet.

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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