Latest Insights

Ethics in Statistics

Written by DC Campbell

Principal | Lighthouse Resource Group

Ethics in Statistics

Statistics are a set of analytical tools, and like any tool, they can be used for good or bad. A hammer can be used to help build a home, or it can be a weapon. Statistics can educate, but far too often, it is used to manipulate.  Today, the abuse of statistics is rampant in media, whether it is political, advertising, or health. Statistical manipulation works because people consciously or not, use numbers to help make decisions. We like to know that most people are making the same choices we make.  There is comfort in numbers, just as there is comfort in conformity.

True, we have come a long way from the years when the large cigarette maker, Philip Morris launched an ad campaign with the slogan: “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.” How many impressionable teenagers then quietly concluded that if all those doctors preferred Camels, then it must be a good choice for them as well?

Of course, Philip Morris never told their customers that the doctors were all given free cartons of Camels, and then asked them what cigarettes they smoked. Statistical manipulation. Ethics out the window.

Think how this could also work to separate us into groups, so as to manipulate people against each other. Say some guy named Beef was found to have increased his steak meals from 12 per year to 24 per year. Statistically, we can say he increased his steak meals by 12 per year. Equally correct is that he doubled his steak input. Both are correct. But ‘double’ adds a more powerful connotation that could lead others to think Beef was a gross overeater. The impression we might now have is that Beef is well on his way to obesity.  At this point, we have rapidly crossed the statistical bridge, and are now in the land of impressions and judgements. Something must be wrong with Beef, for doubling his steak meals when so many are going hungry.

By now, we may even have a name for Beef and others like him who doubled their steak input to 24 per year. What better name for that group than Doubles. We already know something is wrong with them, so our minds are now fertile soil for the rest that is to follow. When a TV reporter says Doubles are a selfish group, gouging down steak when others go hungry, we agree. It becomes easier to agree when the next reporter says that, since cows generate methane, Doubles are the cause of climate change and therefore should be arrested to save the planet. Of course, it then becomes easier to justify shipping all Doubles to reeducation camps.  Our last one hundred years of history teach us that the loss of individual freedoms is always accompanied with a treasure trove of manipulative statistics.

But wait. There’s more. The very people who generate hate for Doubles by manipulating statistics, also use it to elevate themselves as the defenders of truth.

They loudly proclaim, with self-righteous indignation, “We like steak too, but we did not double our input of steak. We care about the planet more than Doubles do. We only increased our steak meals by 25 percent a year. We are four times more caring than those Doubles. What a rotten anti-social group they are!”

Since they only increased their steak input by 25 percent, we will call them Quarters. It easy to like these Quarters people. They really care. And their friends in the media repeat their statistics for public consumption. The cast is set. Quarters are good caring people. Doubles are bad people.

But let’s examine the Quarters statistics behind their 25 percent masks. They are correct, their steaks increased by 25 percent, but that was from 48 to 60 steaks a year. The 25 percent disguises the actual amount that Quarters eat, more than twice the amount that Doubles eat. In their minds Doubles are still the bad guys. Therefore, society should punish Doubles.

This may be a simple illustration, but it shows that when statistics are used to deceive public opinion and protect hypocrisy, ethics go out the window.

So, to promote ethics in statistics, it is left up to us as individuals to first acknowledge that much of what we read and hear in media today is designed to manipulate public opinion, not educate. We must do our own research and arrive at our own conclusion. The next time you hear ‘1,000 doctors said’,’ or ‘200 generals wrote’, or ’we must pass these laws because’, then it’s time to be alert. You are about to receive deceptive statistics. But don’t blame statistics. Blame the manipulators. They are the ones lacking ethics.

The Impact of a S.C.O.R.E.S. Analysis

A S.C.O.R.E.S. analysis is defined as an innovative strategic planning technique to identify an organization’s Strengths, Challenges, Opportunities, Risks, Environment and Systems. From a high-level perspective, this technique can provide innumerable advantages to achieve a wide range of [...]

Are You Prepared for the Coming Silver Tsunami?

The world’s population, including the United States, is getting older. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the life expectancy at birth of the average person in America has increased from 76.7 years in 2000 to [...]

Anxiety and Stress in the Workplace

Anxiety and stress, although silent and unseen, can have devastating impacts on the health, safety and productivity of employees in the workplace. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH),  “exposure to stressful working conditions [...]

Why on Earth Would I Hire an Organization Designer?

Whether you are looking at a complex restructuring or simply trying to make a single department more effective, an organization design consultant can help ensure that the changes are well executed and have the desired positive impact to [...]

Ethics in Statistics

Statistics are a set of analytical tools, and like any tool, they can be used for good or bad. A hammer can be used to help build a home, or it can be a weapon. Statistics can educate, [...]

Leadership as a Non-Anxious Presence

Several years ago, I attended a retreat for non-clergy church leaders. The program was excellent, introducing me to the concept of leadership’s role as a “non-anxious presence” for those they serve. The elements were drawn from the work [...]

The Magic of Thinking Positive

Are we in control of THINKING POSITIVE? Yes, we are in control. It may require reframing a mindset but is possible and the benefits will lead us to a better-quality of life. If we keep a positive mind [...]

The Aging Workforce and What it Means for HR

You have probably been hearing it often: the population is getting older and living longer. This shift in population age is posing issues in healthcare, but also the workforce. Millennials have surpassed Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest [...]

The Fearless Organization

It is a pleasure to share with you an overview of Amy Edmonds’ book and its application to each of us. The theme of my message today comes from this book - the idea of leaders creating fearless [...]

Employee Engagement in a Remote Workplace

Given all the pressures and pivots managers have had to make managing in this new world of work, can you imagine how to also be in touch with the engagement level of your remote employees?  Our one-year anniversary [...]

Stories in the Storm

Those of us who experienced the sub-zero Arctic Blast that hit Texas in February of this year will never forget some of the challenges that we encountered and overcame during that unique weather time frame.  Shown below are [...]

Does Executive Coaching Really Work?

Executive coaching gets a bad rap in many situations. Why? Because it is often used as a last resort to deal with difficult performance issues, and not surprisingly, frequently ends with an exit from the organization. Unfortunately, this [...]

Nuestra Brújula de Liderazgo

"Los valores son más importantes cuando los tiempos son turbulentos". — Stephen Paskoff, director ejecutivo de Eli 2020 realmente nos ha dejado en un lugar desconocido, dejándonos para buscar nuestra brújula personal.  Tenemos demandas que [...]

Todos compartimos una humanidad común

En una fría mañana de Carolina del Sur, hace muchos años, un joven de la isla caribeña de Granada marchó por la plaza del desfile con un pelotón de marines graduados.  Los puestos de revisión estaban llenos de [...]

Behavioral Assessments – A Beginner’s Guide

Finding great people, keeping them and inspiring them to do great things is a top concern for any business owner.  Many have turned to behavioral assessments to help make hiring, promotional, and development and engagement decisions. If you’re thinking about [...]

Our Leadership Compass

“Values are most important when times are turbulent.” — Stephen Paskoff, CEO Eli 2020 has truly dropped us off in an unknown place, leaving us to search for our personal compass.  We have demands coming [...]

The Power of Giving, a story by Kevin Allen

Here's a true story written by Kevin Allen, a good a friend of mine who lived in Arizona with his wife and wonderful family until his recent passing. Kevin enjoyed publishing a number of true experiences that he [...]

We All Share a Common Humanity

On a chilly South Carolina morning many years ago, a young man from the Caribbean island of Grenada marched across the parade square with a platoon of graduating Marines. The reviewing stands were crowded with families who had [...]

Strategic Development Up Close and Personal

Strategic development, also known as strategic planning, is fundamental to creating and running a business or one’s life.  Simply put, it is a blueprint that outlines specific goals and objectives for pre-determined success.  Business goals and objectives are [...]

Facing the Pandemic with a Return to Workplace Plan

It is amazing how quickly six months has changed the way America works. Faced with unprecedented risks under the Covid-19 pandemic, all companies have been faced with orchestrating critical realignments to meet their commitments to both employees and [...]

Covid-19 and Julian of Norwich

As I sit here, staring out the window at all of the apartment windows and balconies surrounding apartment 420, I am struck by the enormity of the current pandemic, juxtaposed against the normal, every-day lives we are all [...]

How to Deliver Feedback with Impact

Getting feedback can be tough. Giving it effectively can be even tougher. Instead of saying what we mean with compassion, as feedback givers we often say nothing at all or short change the message, leaving the receiver bewildered. [...]