[FOUNTAIN]Tricky statistics

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[FOUNTAIN]Tricky statistics

The word “statistics” is related to the Italian word “statista” meaning politicians. Since ancient Rome, politicians seem to have tricked the masses with plausible statistics. “There are three kinds of lies I hate most: Lies, damned lies and statistics,” said the British politician Benjamin Disraeli. A quote from Winston Churchill is also frequently used by reporters: “Don’t trust any statistics you did not fake yourself.” Are statistics really a game of figures played by politicians?
When World War II broke out, Mr. Churchill hurriedly organized a separate department for statistics. The war’s progress was reported to Mr. Churchill and the facts were passed on to the public. Mr. Churchill knew he was hot-tempered, and was always wary of people reporting only victories to please him. The news from the Bureau of Statistics of the British Army’s successive defeats united the British. When making speeches, Mr. Churchill often cited statistics to instill confidence in listeners. He always listened to statisticians when making important decisions. Yet he did not actually say the famous quote: It was made up by Joseph Goebbels, the master Nazi propagandist. He wanted to erode people’s trust in Mr. Churchill, and so went around telling people Mr. Churchill said that. In 1940, he ordered German newspapers to “write [the quote] as if they were Mr. Churchill’s words.”
People who believe all statistics these days are seen as stupid. Even the statistics from the Blue House are hard to trust. Seoul National University was displeased with the president’s comment,“Students from the Gangnam district dominate [enrollment in] Seoul National University.” It was a second edition of last year’s comment, “Sixty percent of the students at Seoul National are from Gangnam.” When asked where the statistics came from, the Blue House disgracefully replied, “It was based on 53 students admitted under a special quota for Korean residents overseas.” As the Blue House is like this, it is no wonder that the Home Affairs Ministry and the National Tax Service use wrong figures.
The Roh administration has emphasized statistics more than any other government. To be a “statistics-based country,” it promoted the head of the National Statistical Office to the level of vice minister. It also plans to set the standards of national statistics by establishing a national statistics committee. “Statistics are the foundation of planning,” and “Statistics make a policy trustworthy,” are good slogans, but statistics are like a double-edged sword. They can be used to gain trust, but can also diminish credibility. It is better to leave statistics to experts. Politicians’ sham statistics that confuse people are wearisome.


by Lee Chul-ho

The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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