Lies, damned lies and statistics *

I am sure that many of you would have seen the story in the Times which quoted the statistician-general, Pali Lehohla, as saying that white people in South Africa suffered from hypertension because they are not happy.

I admit to being rather taken aback by his statements to the Portfolio Committee on Health when I heard them, but my reaction was mild when compared to that of many in the medical profession who rubbished his claims in letters to the editor of The Times as well as in the comments section of the online version. You can read the article here: www.timeslive.co.za/thetimes/2013/09/12/whites-not-happy .

Today I read another article about the same story. This time by commentator Chris Moerdyk who was writing in The Media Online. In his article, www.themediaonline.co.za/2013/09/sa-newspapers-becoming-beacons-of-shoddy-journalism, he says that the article should never have been published and that the fact that the journalists did not get medical advice on the story was an example of shoddy journalism.

I agree with him that the quality of journalism in our country, and most especially print journalism, has dropped dramatically. I do wonder though whether it is completely fair to blame just the journalists.

Who was it in the statistician-general’s department who allowed such statements to be made? Why did he not check his facts himself? Or was he just trying to score some points with a ‘sensational’ story?

I think the lesson to be learned from this is that we should never take anything as gospel (unless it is the Gospel). Check your facts, don’t believe everything you are told. We’ll all be healthier for doing just that!

*Lies and statistics en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lies,_damned_lies,_and_statistics

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