October 20, 2007

Lies, damned lies and statistics

Unfortunately, the ascendancy of Dr. Brown to his party's leadership and Premier has heralded the importation and emulation of the worst aspects of the American political system without some of the best.

There's of course The Entourage (justified for an American President but not for the Premier of Bermuda - who is the equivalent of a small town mayor), a Press Secretary whose job is mostly to obstruct the press, rampant litigation (sue whenever possible) and ego props like a Council of Economic Advisors, the Premier's Gala Weekend (ie. Inauguration) and demands that people stand when Dr. Brown (not the head of state) enters the room etc..

Most significantly however, and this started before Dr. Brown but has - as promised - been taken to the next level, is the blatant manipulation and withholding of statistics to present a far different picture than actually exists.

Since the Department of Statistics was moved under the Cabinet Office, statistics have been misused to hoodwink the public.

Most notably is Tourism, where the Premier has benefited substantially from distorting air arrival numbers as an indicator of a rebirth of tourism and continues to bask in the glory of turning around tourism; a lie which was revealed in full a few weeks ago when the business traveler numbers were finally split out.

This constant misuse of statistics is why I don't believe a thing that this Government tells us - zero - which is one of the worst traits of the US system: politics has transcended policy. The Government seems to view facts as pliable if you put enough PR people on them, and PR is the most important office in the Government.

The current administration in the US, with it's massive appointed senior policy making staff, believes in 'creating it's own reality' as a Bush aide famously told Ron Suskind and mocked the "Reality-based community". The primary objective is to spend time and money to manage public perception, usually through lies, damned lies and statistics.

I say all that to preface my complete lack of belief in the latest graduation rates, released on Friday. Quite simply, it is not credible to present the rosy picture of public education after a well documented 53% graduation rate and in the wake of a devastatingly damning review of public education.

Either the Education review was a total waste of money, or Cabinet is at it again with statistics. Those of us in the reality based community will go with the latter.

There is no way that a 22% increase in the graduation rate year over year when not nearly enough time has passed for any serious reform to the public education system to have been implemented let alone had an impact is possible, yet the public is supposed to believe the latest numbers.

Sorry. I don't.

It's pretty clear that they've changed the baseline (most likely as they are now only reporting those who entered the graduating class it seems), lowered the graduation requirements or are grading a lot more lax.

But the fact is that they can really do whatever they want here, because the certificate they're using is a local creation that has little to no weight against other systems such as the GCSE in the UK.

This behaviour is so fundamentally counter-productive to actually improving public education - or any other issue for that matter. If the Minister and his colleagues can't be honest then they need to be replaced. Public education is far too important to be subject to constant political spin.

To be honest, I'd thought that the education review had actually heralded in a willingness to not dress things up anymore and be brutally honest about the state of things. But that's clearly not the case.

Evidently trying to make people feel better as an election approaches is more important than education.

This manipulation of stats and performance has become so pervasive that there is one American political creation that we could use: a Government Accountability Office.

That's one aspect of the US system that we could actually use here, as well as Public Access to Information and modern anti-corruption laws by the way.

Posted by Christian S. Dunleavy