Corporate Use of Statistics

Please forward to appropriate web sites, e-lists and facebook pages.

Benjamin Disraeli or Mark Twain or some anonymous person said, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."

This applies to pipeline leaks, new drugs, new chemicals, and baseball, among other things.

Here's one way corporations use statistics and exploit the ignorance of politicians and the general public. There was an article in Science News magazine about this in 2010.

You can probably think of examples in your own life. When you do something a lot (cooking or making music, etc.), you have good days and bad days.

On 9/20/2013 Robert Jereski pointed out this article on the web site about an oil industry funded fracking study. That article inspired this one.

Baseball fans already know this, but may not realize how it applies to, say, prescription drug studies.

If a baseball player has a great batting average in the first month of the baseball season, it doesn't mean they're a great player, it only means they had a great April. Over a six-month season, it all "averages out." The player doesn't play exactly the same every month. Hence the sports cliche "You don't play the games on paper, let's see how they do on the field over the course of a season." Take the number of good games, the number of bad games and average everything together. How bad were the bad months? How good were the good months? Add them together and see what you get.

Usually when a drug company tests a new drug (or when a chemical company introduces a new chemical to the market and the environment), they use multiple testing groups. Statistically, the different groups are going to come out with different answers. Like each month of the baseball player's season. The baseball player can't throw out the bad months' statistics when he tries to renew his contract, but the drug company can throw out the worst testing group statistics as an "anomaly." When they report to the FDA, they use the best test group(s) statistics. Most statisticians would throw out the highest AND lowest test group statistics. It's in the best interests of a drug company trying to convince the government to approve a drug - and there is NO independent testing of most drugs - to keep the highs and ignore the lows.

The pipeline study talks about can do the same thing. They can test leaks along many pipelines and not release the data for the leakiest pipelines. Hopefully, they see the leaks as a loss of revenue, but often they see the repairs of leaks as greater lost revenue. Leaks of a "natural gas" pipeline put methane into the atmosphere. Methane is a worse greenhouse gas than the more famous carbon dioxide (CO2); famous because there is more carbon dioxide in the air than methane. Greenhouse gases are called that because in the atmosphere, they act like the roof of a greenhouse and thus, they cause the global warming aspect of climate chaos.

Different studies show different degrees of how much worse methane is than CO2. It's anywhere from 20 to 120 times worse, depending on how long it is in the atmosphere. Burning methane creates carbon dioxide. If a pipe leaks at 5%, which is usually what pipeline companies admit to, but they often admit to 9%, then the greenhouse gas effect of the methane is as bad as all the gas that is burnt, even using the lowest 20 times number. 5% is 5 parts of 100, which is one twentieth. So 20 times worse of something that is 1/20th as much in quantity comes to the same thing. If it's 120 times worse of a 9% leakage, then the methane that leaks from a pipeline is more than ten times worse than what is burnt. I should add that burning is not a perfect process and there is some methane leakage when it's burnt. Just as when gasoline is burnt in a car, you can still smell gasoline under the hood and it's not all converted to CO2, some of it also becomes carbon monoxide.

It's important to realize what goes on behind the scenes when numbers are thrown around.

Thank you.


And listen to Eco-Logic! Past shows are archived and I have direct links on my web site.

Ken Gale
Eco-Logic, WBAI 99.5FM, NYC (environmental radio show) (list of past shows, podcasts & temporary archives and links to hear them) (list of some permanently archived shows and links to hear them)

WBAI is a "50,000 watt" station in the Pacifica network broadcast from midtown Manhattan so our signal gets to New Haven, Trenton, Putnam County and the Poconoes and on the internet live stream and podcasts even further, of course.

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