Why I doubt stories that depend on statistics (continued)

Why I doubt stories that depend on statistics (continued): A steady thread on this weblog regards my warning that statistics in the hands of reporters are an impediment to insight and understanding. Numbers can be made to tell (either out of ignorance or cunning) whatever story a storyteller wants to tell. Newsweek/Washington Post economics columnist Robert Samuelson examines how this “disconnect” is displayed in the ways the story of the America’s economy is told by the White House on one side, and its detractors on the other.

(Warning I: Republicans will hate this column as it primarily focuses on why Bush shouldn’t be credited with anything good happening in the economy. Warning II: Democrats will hate this column because it doesn’t focus on how, despite the economy being robust by historical measures, it doesn’t place enough blame on Bush for any of the economy’s obvious imperfections.)


Economic performance (now good) and economic psychology (now mediocre) have, to some extent, become disconnected. Why? One reason is that Americans have developed perfectionist standards. We expect total prosperity and are disappointed by anything less. There should be no doubts or deficiencies. Today’s include high energy prices, high health care costs, Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath and a possible real estate “bubble.”

Personal disclosure: No matter what the topic (politics, world events, sports, business, family issues), I believe the following: Things are never as bad as they seem. Nor as good. (I’m sure there’s an “ism” name for this, but I prefer not being labeled with designer name philosophies.)

Related: The WSJ.com “numbers guy” breaks down the numbers being cited to measure the impact of New York’s transit strike.

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3 thoughts on “Why I doubt stories that depend on statistics (continued)

  1. The -ism word reporters often miss when using statistics seems to be realism, or perhaps pragmatism.

  2. fyi there some stray code in the link to that Post-Newsweek story, making Radio treat it as a local file instead of a URL

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