While I feel sure academics have far more tricks up their sleeves (like fishing and p-hacking) politicians are are a creative bunch. Here is an article by a Cambridge professor on nine favored strategies. In short, they are:

  • Use real number, but change its meaning
  • Make the numbers suitably big (but not too big)
  • Imply causation from correlation
  • Choose your definitions carefully (but do not explicitly state them)
  • Use total numbers, not percentages (or the other way if it looks better)
  • Avoid relevant; but unflattering context
  • Exaggerate the effect and reliability of a change
  • Use raw; unprocessed data if it supports your claim
  • If all else fails, just make numbers up! (the Trump strategy)

Our nine-point guide to spotting a dodgy statistic

I love numbers. They allow us to get a sense of magnitude, to measure change, to put claims in context. But despite their bold and confident exterior, numbers are delicate things and that’s why it upsets me when they are abused.

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