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Distorting research findings

Example 1

A classic example of dishonesty was use of research by the British Dental Association. Move the mouse over the conclusion to see how one company used this research in their advertising.

Picture of a smile and graphical Text: All toothpastes are equally ineffective

Example 2

Another example is selective or partial use of data. Here are two different views of British cinema attendances up to 1998.

Graph A Graph B

Which one do you think is right?

Graph A
Graph B


Campaigning groups have used simple statistics like the numbers of children living in poverty to summarise issues in a powerful way. Such use is perfectly legitimate and valuable in forcing through important issues of social policy. However the truth is usually more complex than simple statistics suggest and it is essential to maintain a critical perspective when statistics are presented to support a viewpoint.

Party politics thrives on systematic use and misuse of research and monitoring data and is a rich arena for studying how the same information can be twisted to suit different ends. As with Example 2 above simply using different starting points, (e.g. for inflation, unemployment or crime figures) can wholly change how figures are seen and the possible interpretations placed upon them.

Example 3

A clear area of misuse of research is the interpretations and spin put on annual crime figures; it is well-known that these are largely meaningless, since they represent evidence of police activity rather than of actual crime. The latter is measured far more accurately through the British Crime Surveys which identify massive under-reporting of crime in the official crime statistics. One Home Secretary focused optimistically on the 'fall in the rate at which crime is rising'.

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