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Back in the days when I was heavily involved in corporate planning, we used to laugh about the old saying, Figures dont lie, but liars can figure. Unfortunately, as time went on, I began to realize that joke was not really a joke at all.

There are so many ways that statistics can be slanted to prove a particular point that people have to exercise their analytical skills every day to understand what they are hearing and reading.

Several years ago a tsunami hit southeast Asia. Word had barely reached the rest of the world when news stories from Europe and elsewhere began to circulate that the United States was not responding to survivors of that calamity. U.S. media picked up the story and began running articles about how cheap Americans were in their charity, including figures proving their point. Both charges, it turned out, were grossly in error.

A chart published in the Wall Street Journal shows that Americans contribute about 1.6 percent of U.S. GDP to charity, while citizens of the U.K., Canada and Australia contribute at about half that rate. France and Germany rank last on the list of developed countries, with 0.1 percent.

When hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the political atmosphere was so charged that news junkies could easily have concluded that no one – federal, state, city government, anyone – was taking effective action. That slanted coverage, as well as many statistics quoted with it, also proved to be incorrect. In addition to governments, the Salvation Army, Red Cross, fire departments, paramedics and other groups of local citizens from all over the United States had mobilized to help.

The Katrina outreach was impressive, despite what the media said. My wife and I were better suited than most to understand what was really going on because we ourselves had lost half our house and personal possessions in a devastating hurricane a few years earlier. Even today, the primitive living conditions, difficulty in finding competent workmen to rebuild, and struggle with the insurance company are fresh in our minds.

Dr. Nils-Axel Morner, the retired head of the paleogeophysics and geodynamics department at Swedens Stockholm University and a world-class expert on sea-level changes, recently pointed out in an interview with Executive Intelligence Review that the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) had reported in 2003 a dramatic change in 1992-2002 sea-level data. The increase was apparently intended to show the public that global warming due to mans activities is melting ice that will cause the ocean to rise to dangerous levels.

In order to justify the sudden change, the IPCC chose, as a correction factor to their satellite data, one of six Hong Kong tide gauges which showed a 2.3 mm per year rise in sea level. As Morner pointed out, Every geologist knows that that is a subsiding area. Its the compaction of sediment; it is the only record which you shouldnt use… Not even ignorance could be responsible for a thing like that… As a matter of fact, it is a falsification of the data set. As for Vanuatu, the South Pacific island thats supposedly drowning, Morner says, There is absolutely no signal that the sea level is rising. If anything, you could say that maybe the tide is lowering a little bit, but absolutely no rising.

As you can see, carefully selected figures can prove anything – especially the old saying that Figures dont lie, but liars can figure.

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