Mike Kueber's Blog

August 31, 2014

Aphorism of the Week #21 – Lies, damn lies, and statistics

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 2:53 pm
Tags: ,

VIA is San Antonio’s bus agency, and it is trying to recover from the recent repudiation of its extravagant plan to revitalize the downtown by installing a six-mile streetcar route.  As part of its recovery, two VIA executives in today’s Express-News provided an essay on the agency’s importance to San Antonio.

One of the first paragraphs, however, caused me to stop reading the essay and instead marvel at the shiftiness of the writers:

  • “Between 2000 and 2010, San Antonio saw the highest percent of population increase of the 10 largest cities in the nation with a gain of almost 182,000 people, boosting the Alamo City from the ninth-most populated city to the seventh, and our community is expected to grow by over one million more people in the next 25 years.”

First, the authors refer to percentage of population increase, and then sneakily shift to absolute numbers because 182,000 is more impressive than our percentage increase. Of course, if the focus is on absolute numbers, then San Antonio wouldn’t be the city with the largest population increase in the past ten years.

Second, the authors refer to the city of San Antonio growing from 9th to 7th in population ranking, and then sneakily shifting to a “community” that is expected to grow by over one million people over the next 25 years.  Of course, the city isn’t expected to grow by one million people, but the San Antonio metro area is, and one million growth surely sounds better than a half million or so.

My immediate reaction to reading this paragraph was to recall the aphorism coined by Benjamin Disraeli (sometimes wrongly credited to Mark Twain – “There are three types of lies – lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

My next reaction was to provide the authors with some feedback before concluding with “kudos to the VIA president and SVP VIA for apparently mastering the art of using statistics to mislead instead of to inform.  But I would prefer public servants who would rather inform than manipulate.”

One of my friends talks often of the need for people to develop critical-thinking skills.  Otherwise, people will take advantage of you.  Thanks, VIA, for reinforcing that.



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