Flexible 'facts'

Benjamin Disraeli is reported to have claimed: "There are three kinds of lies, lies, damned lies and statistics.

" Wise words indeed, particularly in light of some of the news this week.

Statistics can either be your best friend, or your worst enemy. While you may be able to produce, with a flourish, a raft of facts and figures to support your latest argument, you can guarantee that someone else will probably be able to take the exact same figures and offer the opposite view.

This week is a case in point, with a report using a combination of woolly research and loose facts to make the claim that the consumption of processed meats, such as bacon, could raise the risk of developing stomach cancer. To be fair, even the researchers seemed to be a little confused as to what the results of their research said, but that did not stop the media printing the usual "meat in cancer scare" claims.

At the same time, we have Compassion in World Farming using the statistics from a Defra-commissioned report to support one of their ongoing campaigns against the poultry industry, prompting claims by the industry that CIWF has over-simplified the data.

So, with all this in mind, why do we keep turning to statistics to try and make a point? Perhaps it is the sheer flexibility in their nature that makes them so seductive. Maybe we are all guilty of a little statistical massaging. After all, my latest research reveals that 99% of MTJ readers agree with everything I say...

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