Lying With Precision

NPR’s All Things Considered recently interviewed Charles Seife, the author of a new book entitled Proofiness: The Dark Art of Mathematical Deception. The book discusses methods used by advertisers and politicians to spin polls to make them seem convincing. One of the methods the book covers is claiming specific numbers when stating “the facts.” For instance, Seife brings up the example of Senator Joe McCarthy identifying exactly 205 communist infiltrators in his first report. Shortly after, McCarthy raised the number to 207, and then decreased it by a few people the next day. By giving a specific number his statements gained legitimacy.

Blessed with not having a booth at the IMTS show last week, I got to walk the four vast halls of McCormick Place and visit a plethora of exhibits (164 to be exact) where I talked to a whopping 186 booth workers. At times some booths actually had more staff than visitors.

Two icebreakers I employed when walking into each booth were the questions, “How is the show going for you?” and “How is business looking lately?” Ninety three out of 100 times the answer was on a spectrum of business being “decent and improving” all the way up to “Business is awesome! We sold 12 machines in the first day and eight in the second!” Needless to say, the 46 representatives of the Today’s Machining World team left the show feeling pretty damn good about the market. If business was great and or improving for most of our potential clients (58 or 65 to be exact), it bodes quite well for magazine advertising revenue in the coming 3.5 years.

Question: Do you believe the IMTS exhibitors’ claims that the manufacturing sector is looking up for 2011?

Alternative question: Do you usually question Gallup polls?

Ballooning Numbers of IMTS

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3 thoughts on “Lying With Precision

  1. Deborah Rudy

    I can’t really give an enlightening comment, except that your piece brought to mind that old saying: “There are lies, damn lies, and statistics.”

  2. Jack Frost

    There is an old saying,” Figures don’t lie, but liars sure figure.” All polls are slanted. Whether or not it is Gallup or Elmo Roper or Joe Blow each has an axe togrind.

  3. Gary Zurek

    Selling machines is one thing, making profit is another thing. At the moment I don’t think too many are doing both. The better questions is “How is business and will you be profitable this year?” And now comes the lying.


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