Corporations and Politicians Use Numbers to Lie —
and How Not to Be Fooled
2. Robert Reich: Six Responses to Bernie
3. Sanders: Michigan Governor Must Resign
4. Donald Trump is a Mediocre Businessman
This is a Nederlog of Sunday, January 17, 2016.
This is a
crisis blog. There are 5 items with 4 dotted links: Item
is a good article on the mathematical incompetence that characterizes
the vast majority of Americans (including most medical doctors, it
seems); item 2 is on Robert Reich's defense of
Bernie Sanders' chances to win the presidency, and is also good; item 3 is about the Michigan governor who decided to
poison children with lead in their drinking water because
this was the most profitable option; item 4
is about Donald Trump's talents as a businessman (quite mediocre); and item 5
is about my sites and the fact that tomorrow there very probably will
not be a Nederlog because I have to go twice to the dentist.
Corporations and Politicians Use Numbers to Lie — and How Not to Be
As I just said, there will probably not be a Nederlog tomorrow,
because I have to be at
the dentist early in the morning and late in the afternoon. Also, I
have started to revise Part I of my
autobiography, and there will soon
be a little more Dutch in Nederlog. And see Intermezzo
below for some more. (I take it there will be a Nederlog again
on Tuesday, January 19.)
by Larry Schwartz on AlterNet:
This starts as follows (and I selected this
especially because of its title):
Americans, as P.T. Barnum once
noted, are not all that difficult to fool, and our nation’s somewhat
weak math skills don’t help. A Pew Research Center report issued last
year, which studied test results of 15-year-olds, ranked the United
in the world in math. Not only has this weakness in understanding
numbers created opportunities for mass exploitation by Big Pharma and
other industries, it has led to needless and mostly unwarranted fear.
While Americans don’t understand math, be assured that corporations do,
and they happily use it to mislead and obfuscate in the name of selling
Precisely. And given that most Americans are
bad at math, this will remain to be the case,
simply because the public
relations liars will continue to lie and will continue to abuse the
ignorance of those they deceive for profit.
As to my claim that most Americans are bad at math, there is
this bit that is about the mathematical gifts of some of the best
educated Americans: The medical doctors:
Big Pharma doesn’t only target
consumers with its misleading advertising; it also targets your doctor.
And why not? Sadly, a medical degree doesn’t necessarily mean your
doctor is a numbers whiz. In a report in
the journal Psychological Science in the Pubic Interest on doctors’
ability to analyze relevant statistics, they were asked, “If my
mammogram is positive, what are the odds that I actually have cancer?”
Doctors were given all the information needed to answer that question
accurately, and a startling number of them still got it wrong. In fact,
only 20 percent of them got it right.
I certainly would have gotten that right by
age 15, and indeed the math is not at all difficult. But it is
too difficult, it seems, for 80% of the present American medical
Here is one main source of confusion, in doctors and in patients:
The concept of relative and
absolute risk is important. Big Pharma loves relative risk and hates
absolute risk. Relative sells pills. Absolute, not so much. Any
medication can claim to cut your relative risk of getting a disease by
huge percentages: 10%, 50%, even 100%. But if your absolute chance of
even getting the disease is tiny, than the relative risk, no matter how
impressive sounding, is also small.
The general point is this: (1) medications
have generally a percentage of success, that we will call p, and that
is always between 0 and 1; (2) new medications (for the same disease)
likewise have a percentage of success, that we will call p'; (3) if
this is somewhat higher than p, the difference is p'-p will be presented
as if it were absolute by the public
relations liars ("You have a 50% better chance of being
cured: Buy this product!", whereas factually what
matters is the difference (4) p'*(risk of disease)-p*(risk of disease),
which is generally very much smaller than p'-p.
For example, if the difference between p' and p is - say - 25%
(which is a lot) then the real advance in a disease which hits
4% of the population is 25% of 4% which is just 1%.
This may still be important for you, but if the disease is not
life-threatening - say: the flue - and
the price of the new medicine is a lot higher than the old medicine (it
generally is), you may well reconsider whether you are willing to pay a
lot more for the new medicine, or rather take an aspirine.
The article ends as follows:
Mathematicians are smart, and if
someone strings together a bunch of numbers and looks confident, we
will, more often than not, accept their “smartness.” To paraphrase a
famous wizard, “Pay no attention to those numbers behind the curtain!”
And so we don’t, especially if the alternative is to do our homework
and better understand the math.
He is quite right. And the article is
2. Robert Reich: Six Responses to Bernie Skeptics
The second item
is by Robert Reich on his blog:
This starts as follows - but I first
point you to my review of Robert Reich's previous post, in
which I sketched his good relations with the Clintons: It is here:
1. “He’d never beat Trump or Cruz in a
Wrong. According to the latest polls,
Bernie is the strongest Democratic candidate in the general election,
defeating both Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in hypothetical matchups. (The
Clear Politics averages of all polls shows Bernie beating Trump by
a larger margin than Hillary beats Trump, and Bernie beating Cruz while
Hillary loses to Cruz.)
I think you have to read the rest
yourself, but here are the other 5 points + sometimes the very
beginning of Robert Reich's answers - and for more click the last
2. “He couldn’t get any of his ideas
implemented because Congress would reject them.”
3. “America would never elect a socialist.”
4. “His single-payer healthcare proposal would cost so much it would
require raising taxes on the middle class.”
This is a duplicitous argument.
5. “His plan for paying for college with a tax on Wall Street trades
would mean colleges would run by government rules.”
6. “He’s too old.”
As I said, there is more under the
last dotted link. And I agree with Robert Reich, while I add that the
Clintons are deceivers who both mainly worked for the rich bankers
(which is something that Reich probably won't say).
Also, I like it that Robert Reich supports Bernie Sanders, and
this may make a considerable advantage for Sanders, in part because
Reich was associated with
the Clintons and is widely respected.
Michigan Governor Must Resign over Flint Lead-Poisoning Crisis
third item is by the Common Dreams staff on Common Dreams:
Again I start with some background: Michael Moore
(<- Wikipedia), who was born and raised in Flint, wrote an open
letter to governor Snyder that was published on January 6 in Common
Dreams and reviewed by me the next day,
that started thus:
The present article starts as follows:
Dear Governor Snyder:
Thanks to you, sir, and the premeditated
actions of your administrators, you
have effectively poisoned, not just some, but apparently ALL of the
children in my hometown of Flint, Michigan.
And for that, you have to go to jail.
I agree completely with Moore, Sanders and
Common Dreams - and I do like to add that governor Snyder's decision to
poison the children was motivated by the one motive that will
soon - if the TPP, TTIP, TiSA and CETA have become laws - dominate
everything, including children's formerly
existing rights not to be poisoned by lead in their drinking
Democratic presidential hopeful U.S.
Sen. Bernie Sanders on Saturday called on Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to
resign for his administration’s failure to deal with a lead-poisoning
crisis that has sickened thousands of children in Flint, Michigan.
“There are no excuses. The governor long
ago knew about the lead in Flint’s water. He did nothing. As a result,
hundreds of children were poisoned. Thousands may have been exposed to
potential brain damage from lead. Gov. Snyder should resign,” Sanders
Problems with Flint’s public water
system date to a decision nearly two years ago by a receiver, appointed
by the governor, who decided to cut costs by drawing the city’s
drinking water from the polluted Flint River instead of from Lake Huron.
The governor and other state officials
knew – but did not acknowledge until last fall – that the river water
was corroding pipes and causing lead to leach into the drinking water.
The decision not to add chemicals to prevent corrosion of the pipes was
made at the direction of the governor’s Department of Environmental
Quality. The state health department in Michigan apparently knew about
elevated lead levels in the blood of children but did not warn the
4. Donald Trump is a Mediocre Businessman
fourth item is by Kevin Drum on Mother Jones, and articulates a point
about Donald Trump that I have always believed without proof:
This starts as follows:
Actually, I never believed Trump was
fine businessman because I did know three things about him: First, he
inherited vast wealth, which makes it a whole lot easier to do
business; second, he went broke several times in major ways; and third
I generally disbelieve the rich about their own incomes and
their own business acumen, and indeed not only Trump but
anyone: Show me good evidence about your claimed financial acumen or
I know I've beaten this dead horse
before, but I continue to be a little surprised that no one has
seriously attacked Donald Trump on his business acumen. After all, it's
his big calling card: he knows how to negotiate great deals and he's
made a ton of money from them.
But this doesn't seem to be true. In fact,
he seems to be a pretty mediocre businessman.
There is more in the article which I leave to your interests, but I
will quote two more bits. The first is this:
Bottom line: When it comes to
building and managing tangible assets, there's really not much evidence
that Trump has much talent. He inherited a huge amount of money and
nearly lost it all during his first couple of decades in the
development business. However, before the money ran out he was able to
use it to create the "Trump show" (his words), and in the
couple of decades since then his income has come not from building
things, but primarily from licensing and entertainment.
OK. Here is Kevin Drum's ending:
But as a businessman, he's so-so.
He lets his decisions be guided by his gut, and his gut isn't really
very good. That's where Trump Plaza, Trump Air, Trump football, Trump
City, the Trump Taj Mahal, Trump Steaks, and Trump University come
from. That's not much of a recommendation for the presidency.
I mostly agree: He simply is great in
just one respect: As a braggard.
This fifth item is by me and is about my health and my sites.
Tomorrow there will very probably not be a Nederlog nor any addition to
my sites because I have to go twice to the dentist, to resolve dental
problems that started briefly before Christmas. I take it they will be
resolved, but I also will not have the time to write anything for the
site tomorrow, which will probably be different by Tuesday (I hope and
having written the first version my
from 0 to 40 from 2013 to 2015, I decided to somewhat rewrite it this
year. I did already rewrite some, and the autobiography now starts here,
but I will rewrite some more, notably by adding section titles, and
hope to be able to end both Part I (from 0 till 28) and Part II (from
28 til 40) in 2016 (and only then will continue with Part III, which is
also less interesting, because I was ill all the time and could
and did do little else but read and write and lay in bed).
And yes, I do know it is mostly in Dutch and it also seems to interest
few, but I did lead a fairly interesting and quite
abnormal life, that I think is worth documenting, in part because
it is interesting and quite abnormal, in part because it is my
life, and in part also because I did learn several things from
writing my autobiography, that I would not have known without
writing it (and documenting it earlier).