The Only Statistic That Counts

I like to get away when I can. So I’m lying in a hammock in Tulum sipping an ice-cold Pacifico.

The hammock is gently rocking thanks to a constant offshore breeze.

Four pelicans glide overhead in formation and then dip where the turquoise water meets the almost white sand.

Tulum is a beach town in Quintana Roo, a state in south-eastern Mexico on the Yucatan Peninsula.

Watching the pelicans until they fade into grey smudges, it’s hard to believe I’m in a country engulfed in a drug-war.

But as the BBC reports, according to federal government figures, 47,515 people have been murdered by narco-terrorists in the last 5 years.

Conversely, the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the murder rate in the Yucatan is 0.1% per 100,000 of population. No US tourist destination even comes close, to being as safe as I am here.

Statistically, 0.1% is insignificant, unless you are the unfortunate one-in-a-million.

In which case the statistic becomes hugely significant, albeit posthumously.

The Internet may not have been made for statistics, but its binary DNA seems made to order for their proliferation.

Sites like Survey Monkey and Poll Monkey make it easy for anyone to spit out fresh, crunchy stat bites.

Not unnaturally, the flip side of proliferation is desensitisation.

9% unemployment is terrible, it weakens society and affects us all to some degree, naturally I sympathise--but hey I’m alright Jack!

Hell, I’m on vacation.

Unemployment statistics, like crime statistics only really matter when they affect you directly.

The further they get from the centre (you, family, friends, and friends of friends) the less you feel their impact.

If that sounds callous, it’s only 51% callousness brought on through extreme statistical overload.

The proliferation of statistics inevitably means a correlative decrease in credibility.

You can find stats to support any and all points of view.

From the cynically disingenuous, beloved of lobbyists and politicos, to the deliberately goofy, it’s misinformation by the numbers.

Until the only statistic that counts is the one you believe.

It’s as well to remember it’s a belief and not a fact, unless you can prove it, and chances are you can’t.

As the man said, there are “Lies, damned lies and statistics,” the question is which man?

Fittingly, the quote has been attributed to Benjamin Disraeli, Alfred Marshall and Mark Twain.

So it’s a one-in-three chance we even know who coined the phrase.

Time for a second beer, or will that be my third?