Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Made up numbers hurt your case

Every now and then a graphic circulates on  social media, usually making a political point, displaying a set of impressive numbers to make the case. All too often people pass these on without questioning the data. But if you do that, it is entirely possible those numbers were fictional, and instead of supporting a cause, you weaken it.

The example shown here is probably the most blatantly awful such graphic I've ever seen. So much so that I wondered if it was from a comedy news site like the Daily Mash, but as far as I can tell it isn't - and it is certainly being shared as if it were serious. 

I probably can't list everything wrong with this data set, but problems include:

  • It mixes salaries and pensions - not a meaningful comparison 
  • Even if you look at salaries, the numbers for politicians are totally fictional - the PM for instance has a salary of £142,500 and an MP of £67,000
  • According to this report in the Guardian (hardly a government lackey paper) the average pensioner income in 2011 was over £20,000 not £6578 (of course many get less, but this was the average). The trouble is, these figures compare the state pension with an occupational pension 
  • Whether or not soldiers are paid enough is a totally separate issue, though personally I'd rather nurses, teachers, policemen etc earned more than soldiers and I would like the people who run the country paid significantly more still
  • The wording is a little odd. 'House Speaker' is a US term; I wonder if this is US data with the labels changed
Whenever you see numbers like check the source and do a little research before passing them on. All in all, if you use garbage numbers to support your case all you do is damage that case.

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