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Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics
In a world of what should be information, an orphaned, old phrase rings true.
There is some debate as to who said it first. Mark Twain attributed the remark to 19th Century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. There are those that say Twain, the most prescient wit in American letters, coined the phrase, himself.
To whomever the kudos go, it's an accurate turn of phrase -- there are three kinds of lies: Lies, damned lies, and statistics. I'm reminded of that whenever I try to listen to national sportstalk radio over a weekend.
The plan for a host who has to appeal to listeners from Walla Walla, Washington to Meridian, Mississippi is apparently not so much to inform as to inflame, or raise one's hackles. Local shows, talk local teams. They're often quite funny and engaging.
The off-hours national hosts must span the width and breadth of a nation that, research says (here come those statistics) loves football and basketball more than baseball. One Saturday, I heard a local, San Francisco sportstalker, guesting on a national show, nattering seamlessly about a list of the most dominant sports figures of the last 20 years.
Oh boy, I thought, here's another yo-yo ready to blather about a current athlete being the Greatest of All-Time, an assessment completely unfair to great athletes of an earlier era, and a topic born from programming memos that admonish a host for yakking about stars that younger listeners may not of heard of.
This guy surprised me, though. He offered a comment derived from some wholly other analytic tidbit that means nothing unless you're trying to sound intelligent (even though you may not be). In perusing the list of dominant athletes, he claimed a baseball player could never rank higher than a player of another sport, because a batter only comes to the plate three or four times a game.
Huh?? Did this glib cretin just say a baseball player could not be dominant because he doesn't make every single at bat in a game? From what convoluted, jack-ass logic was he working? Human beings who think before they speak understand that a timely hit, moving a runner in to scoring position, an RBI, all manner of game winning hit, on a consistent basis, is dominance.
Quarterbacks who complete half their passes draw raves, point guards having triple double nights are a rare, superstar phenomenon. In the mind of this gadfly with an open mike, that's being provocative, profound; an expert. He's being none of the above. He's being the very essence of what Twain (or Disraeli) meant. Working numbers to back up a faulty point.
I once witnessed a radio programmer do this, in regards to some ratings trouble. We're down a ratings share? We'll give away more trips to Hawaii. The research says our audience loves trips to Hawaii. The fact was, Hawaiian giveaways on-air meant five more weeks in Hawaii, that year, for the programmer and his partner.
And folks, that's just sports and music. Imagine how the old phrase works for Political Talk!