Distorting research findings
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.
Another example is selective or partial use of data. Here are two different
views of British cinema attendances up to 1998.
Which one do you think is right?
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.
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'.