Lies, damned lies and data

“Excuse me, are you sure about that?”

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Source of Picture: bshort.org

A wise man said to me recently: “All data is wrong; all you can do is make sure you are consistently wrong”.

Now this is absolutely not meant to be any criticism whatsoever of what consultants or other market observers do for a living. They are the hand that feeds me and I’ve never wanted to come across as critical, it’s just I wish we could all get it more right sometimes.

Just to emphasise that we can all be fallible – including this particular idiot journalist – here’s a story from a long time ago.

I was visiting a certain company somewhere in China with a former colleague of mine with a rather large ego (not sure why this is relevant, other than my amusement at his flustered and blundering excuse-making when we were caught out, rather than the honest and straightforward admission that we’d dropped a huge clanger).

Anyway, we were in the midst of one of those interminably long lunches when an official from the company told us that they had completed a new purified terephthalic acid (PTA) plant in the next field. He added that it was due on-stream in three months’ time.

We duly travelled back to Singapore in a state of joy at our “scoop” and published the exclusive story in our magazine.

The following week a consultant called us and said: “Do you know that they haven’t even started building the plant yet? They were just putting out a statement to deter others from building – all utter nonsense. Didn’t you think to double check?”

I admitted no and he pointed out that one of us should have stood up to pretend to want to stretch our legs or go the bathroom and glance out of the company dining room window at the adjacent field.

Sure enough, the plant didn’t start-up three months later and so we had to do some serious humble-pie eating.

You live and learn.

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