Ben Goldacre, The Guardian, Saturday 2 April 2011
Here are two fun ways that numbers can be distorted for political purposes. Stop me if I’m boring you, but each of them feels oddly poetic, in its ability to smear or stifle.
The first is simple: you can conflate two different things into one number, either to inflate a problem, or confuse it. Last weekend, a few hundred thousand people marched in London against the cuts. On the same day, there was some violent disturbance, windows smashed, policemen injured, and drunkeness. Read the rest of this entry »
Saturday January 17 2009
“Danger from just 7 cups of coffee a day” said the Express on Wednesday. “Too much coffee can make you hallucinate and sense dead people say sleep experts. The equivalent of just seven cups of instant coffee a day is enough to trigger the weird responses.” The story appeared in almost every national newspaper. Read the rest of this entry »
We’re all suckers for a big number, and you’ll be delighted to hear that the Journal of Consumer Research has huge teams of scientists all eagerly writing up their sinister research on how to exploit us.
One excellent study this month looked at how people choose a digital camera. This will become relevant in three paragraphs’ time. The researchers took a single image, then processed it in Photoshop to make two copies: one where the colours were more vivid, and one where the image was sharper. They told participants that each image came from a different camera, and asked which they wanted to buy. About a quarter chose the one with the
more colourful sharper image. Read the rest of this entry »