In this article, Tim Harford uses the distinction put forth by the Princeton philosopher Harry Frankfurt, between those who lie with statistics, and those who simply do not care what the facts are, but use statistics to support their position. The latter can be described as:

Politicians treat statistics not as the foundation of their argument but as decoration — “spray-on evidence” is the phrase used by jaded civil servants

This type of use is tragic and dangerous. If nothing else, it reduces the public’s faith in statistics, and thus also research. For an example, think how Trump uses statistics in his campaign.

Thought not discussed in the article, I wonder to what extent the same is true for academics, who may get results within very narrow boundary conditions, but present them as absolute truths.

Update: 25 nov 2016:  with the US presidential election behind us, there a related issue has come to light, the use of fake news; where networks of fake news sites are set up, ones that look legitimate but only host made up stories. These are then posted of social media, in groups susceptible to the stories being told; which in this case turned out to be mainly Republicans (one can speculate as to whether reality was absurd enough for the other side :)) There was big money through advertisement in this for those behind; and no-one cared to fact-check. It was only important that it supported existing world views. Read more on NPR, the link below.

How politicians poisoned statistics

In January 2015, a few months before the British general election, a proud newspaper resigned itself to the view that little good could come from the use of statistics by politicians. An editorial in the Guardian argued that in a campaign that would be “the most fact-blitzed in history”, numerical claims would settle no arguments and persuade no voters.

We Tracked Down A Fake-News Creator In The Suburbs. Here’s What We Learned

A lot of fake and misleading news stories were shared across social media during the election. One that got a lot of traffic had this headline: “FBI Agent Suspected In Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead In Apparent Murder-Suicide.” The story is completely false, but it was shared on Facebook over half a million times.

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