Thursday, January 13, 2005


Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics and Indymedia

An interesting Wall Street journal article The Numbers Guy reports something most of us know - that statistics can be accidentally or deliberately misleading depending on how they are used and this is especially the case in news reporting. The article uses Asian Bird Flu to give an interesting example:
The World Health Organization has a big problem: It needs to alert the public to the dangers of a virus that has killed very few people, yet could, in some scenarios, devastate nations across the globe.

So, the group's doctors and scientists have lately been forecasting truly alarming numbers from the so-called Asian bird flu -- up to 100 million deaths. One researcher has gone much further, suggesting the toll could be up to a billion people.
Or in other words, a Bird Flu related virus has actually only killed a few people but could potentially kill billions (but might not).

Now imagine the headlines:
"Billions could die: Scientist"
"Millions more deaths to come" and so on. The problem is obvious and it could happen in well respected, well researched fact-checked media who by trying to capture readers interests were unknowingly helping the scientists fear-agenda.

Now Indymedia is most certainly not well researched, fact-checked (or even well respected I might add) media. So fear, uncertainty and doubt as well as hyperbole and misleading statistics can certainly be expected. And they should be.

The excreable Vancouver Indymedia proclaims: "69% of Canadians are opposed to the U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense".

The source of this statistic is mentioned, but only later and indirectly. A little checking however led me to articles on the actual survey which did not focus on missile issues but dealt in-general with Canadian independence from the USA of which missiles was but one part.

However, in that the Indymedia article selected this one 'result' it is relevant to note the question which was asked of those polled: "Canada should actively support the Bush administration's missile defence system even if it may require dedicating military spending to the program or allowing US missile launchers in Canada".

That's a pretty big "if".

Moreover, not actively supporting something doesn't neccessarily mean you are opposed to it. I do not actively support Buddhism. This does not at all mean I am opposed to it however nor would it be fair to say this. But go back and read the Indymedia headline. Tells a different story doesn't it?

But then, Indymedia has a habit of that don't they?

The article suggests readers contact the Canadian Prime Minister and
" Ask him to respect the 69 per cent of Canadians who are opposed to the missile shield (as per a March 2004 Ipsos-Reid poll).
Even though the Ipsos-Reid poll didn't actually say that and the Prime Minister will know it. It's called swimming against a tide that isn't there.

I was going to make a witty remark about stones and glass-houses regarding one of the subsequent comments:
What part of we have'nt been asked to spend a dime don't you get? Anyway, we spend billions on social programs and we still have poor people, people in jail, illiterate idiots like you...etc.
But I won't, honest.

Instead I'll mention one of the other Indymedia readers, Brian who typifies the victim mentality of some Indymedia regulars when he writes:
69%? so what? Do you think you are living in a democracy?
No Brian, Canada's hardly a democracy, I mean it's just north of the Great Satan doncha know? But then, you won't be shot or imprisoned for your convictions so I guess that's a start.

Another very nice piece dude, although...

Can you switch commenting to Haloscan, like you have with your Trackbacks? (Just cause I prefer it, and it's easier, I think.)
Hi Leigh,

I have deliberately not used Haloscan for comments, and only for trackback as the non-paid version of Haloscan doesn't display comments older than 4 months.

I'm not averse to paying for a good service of course, however commenting on this blog at present is so minimal the current arrangement works quite nicely.

Also, as Haloscan comments appear in a popup window they are killed by a lot of popup blockers. There are kludge workarounds but probably more trouble than they are worth in light of the previous point.

Blogger doesn't support native trackback though, so I have turned to Haloscan to provide this and it does the trick quite nicely.
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