Misleading headlines: Lies, darned lies, and misrepresented statistics

Misleading headlines: Lies, darned lies, and misrepresented statistics

One thing that REALLY gets under my skin is when people manipulate statistics to try and create sensational news. I came across this news article this morning:

Malta’s food prices second highest in eurozone
By MaltaMedia News Jun 3, 2008 – 10:44:20 AM

Food prices in Malta rose by 9.7% in April 2008, more than twice the inflation rate which during the same month stood at 4.1% in 2007, according to Eurostat.

Malta, therefore, has the second highest rise in food prices in the eurozone with Slovenia’s prices rising by 12.4%. The overall rise in food prices in the eurozone stood at 6.2%.

Oils and fats alone in Malta went up by 15.8% in just a year’s time whilst in other eurozone countries they only went up by 8.3% on average.

Another contrasting anomaly in Malta’s price portfolio is that the prices of vegetables, which in other countries fell, went up by 13.8% registering the highest increase in comparison to all other countries.

Do you see my problem with the article? The headline states that Malta has one of the highest food prices in Europe, yet the statistics quoted talk about the second highest RISE in prices. And I don’t think there was an editorial error here, it’s just that the headline is more sensational like this. In reality, such an abrupt rise in prices probably belies the fact that prices are really quite low in comparison to it’s European neighbours and have had to climb steeply to try and catch up.

Statistics also need to be put in context. A 10% rise in a month sounds like a lot. But I would hazard a guess that this is a pro-rated per annum growth rate (making it under 1%) based on the fact that it is quoted as being twice inflation. Also, how does this compare to preceeding months? Was this figure similar the previous month, or maybe it was unusually low?

Is it just me? Or do misrepresented statistics drive you crazy too?

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