Friday, October 02, 2009

Economic Impact, Street Value and Crowd Counts

Three of the most consistently false statistics that we see in our world are economic impacts, street value of drugs, and crowd counts. It seems that these numbers have reached an escalation lately that rivals the height of the arms race, and statistical overkill may break out to such an extent that intelligent people will be forced to give up on numbers entirely.

Economic impact is probably the most profitable lie in civic life. Have you ever noticed that fantastically large numbers get tossed about when we discuss a convention, arts project, or sports team? Have you ever noticed that the fantastically large numbers are calculated by someone with a motivation to inflate them?

Here's how it works. Let's say I announce a convention to be held here in Kansas City for the Association of Middle-Aged Blogger/Homebrewers. First off, you aggressively round up the number of people coming. If there are 40 of us that can be expected to attend, well, that's approximately 100, and then, you never know, it could be 250, and then don't forget that they will bring spouses, so we have 500, and then don't forget that they are all family people, and the entire family will want to come for this event, so now were up to a couple thousand, easily. Now, let's talk about the money they will spend.

Suddenly, we have 2,000 Middle-Aged Blogger/Homebrewers coming to town, and they're each going to need a hotel room (notice that we've converted each family member into a separate attendee - get with the spirit - nobody checks the math on these things!). Let's just assume that they are all going to pay the highest rates at the most expensive hotels, alright? So we have 2000 rooms at, say, $250/night. The convention only lasts two days, but let's assume they will all spend the week, alright? And don't forget that they need to eat - so let's figure that they will each spend an average of $200/day on food and beverage, alright? (That might seem high, but remember, nobody's checking the math, and we want to come up with a high total.) As you can see, the numbers get awfully high awfully quick - my little example is up to over $6,000,000, and we haven't even talked about souvenir shopping yet.

The same thing happens with estimates of economic impact of sports teams and arts events. You just figure that a high percentage of attendees are coming from out of town (round up!), that they will all stay at expensive hotels (round up!), that they will all eat expensive meals (round up!) and they will all stay a week to attend a ballet performance. Then you can claim that your ballet troupe generates millions of dollars of economic impact, so a little public subsidy makes perfect sense.

Police have a similar incentive to inflate numbers, with a similar lack of oversight, when they report street value of drugs. If you arrest a guy with a little bit of crack or crystal, the press release isn't going to say that the guy was peddling poor quality drugs to poor people. No way - you've gone from thrift store drugs to Tiffany's Drugs. A bag of weed that might go for $50 on the street suddenly becomes the finest pot ever sold, and well-heeled druggies would happily pay $300 for that stuff, so the street value of a pound is astronomical! Over the past several days, the KCPD claims it captured $170,000 in street value in the Northeast sweep, and I'm darned happy they did it, but I'm guessing the total value on the street didn't really approach six figures. Who's going to argue with the police when they claim a big bust?

Finally, crowd counts are the most pointless and amusing lies. Recently, several thousand tea-baggers gathered in DC to ride public transportation and complain about paying for it. Sober, legitimate estimates put the crowd at between 70,000 and 100,000, but one participant tweeted that there were two million people there, and the FOX team sprang into action and reported that estimates were that the crowd was 2,000,000, and that word spread through the right-wing fringe. The sadly inevitable but hilarious result was that their inability to find any serious news agencies reporting 2 million people became evidence in their minds that the media was intentionally not covering their "huge" turnout. If they really had 2,000,000, the news would have covered it, and the organizers would have arranged for aerial photos to prove it.

Whenever you see numbers that seem incredible, take a few moments to examine who is creating those numbers, and what their assumptions were. They probably are incredible - in the sense of lacking credibility.

(For extra credit on this lesson in fake math, please calculate the economic impact of the 70,000 teabaggers in DC, adding in the street value of the drugs they must have taken to make them see 2,000,000 of themselves.)

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Blogger les said...

(For extra credit on this lesson in fake math, please calculate the economic impact of the 70,000 teabaggers in DC, adding in the street value of the drugs they must have taken to make them see 2,000,000 of themselves.)

Typical moonbat; them boys and girls are just high on life.

10/02/2009 9:31 AM  
Anonymous This should be fun said...

Entering the rough and tumble world of politics again?

10/02/2009 1:23 PM  
Blogger AeroSquid said...

great post, i agree completely. the cops also fudge crime statistics.

10/02/2009 3:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh Dan people make up all kinds of things in their head.

10/02/2009 4:47 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

This Should be Fun -

Not jumping back into politics, at least not yet. All sides lie with statistics, though the freshest example on crowd count was the Teabaggers.

10/02/2009 5:11 PM  
Blogger craig said...

Actually Dan, wouldn't the freshest example be "jobs saved or created"

10/03/2009 12:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


10/03/2009 12:11 PM  

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