Using Numbers to Persuade: Hidden Rhetoric of Statistics

Philosophy of current knowledge distinguishes facts from values. It maintains that facts are objective, indisputable, universally verifiable and do not require to persuade. Since rhetoric is persuasion it is assumed to be deceptive and overlook reality. Therefore, statistics in its current form disregards rhetoric and emphasizes only numbers. It ignores meanings and interpretation of numbers that involve subjectivity and value judgements. In real world, numbers and values are entangled in a way that it becomes impossible to avoid subjectivity. So, it is used with an appearance of objectivity. We illustrate how apparently objective statistics conceal subjective choices.
Most of real-world experiences cannot be reduced to numbers, but scientific approach compels us to measure everything. In the attempt to measure the unmeasurables like trust, intelligence and wealth is inevitable make subjective choices. There is no objective way to reduce multiple measures into one. In the field of economics values are involved even in seemingly indisputable numbers like GDP. It is value laden for the choice of factors, weights and their signs. Making comparisons on such measures without awareness have harmful implications for policy development. Moreover, it is also desirable to understand hidden values to avoid deception.

Keywords:Data Interpretation, Wealth of Nations, Gross Domestic Product.
JEL Classifications: C81, C82, A20, B23.
DOI #: 10.33818/ier.747554