How the State Manipulates Statistics

Any Internet argument that goes on for more than a few comments will inevitably result in all sides throwing statistics at one another. Statistics are the Internet argument equivalent of artillery fire and no form of statistics is as effective as government statistics. Government statistics, for some bizarre reason, are considered the most impartial by most people. However government statistics are usually skewed to favor, well, the government. From removing entire groups of people from unemployment statistics to conveniently ignoring the difference between full-time and part-time employment the state likes to cook the books to make its story sound good.

But governments don’t just manipulate statistics to pain a rosy picture. Sometimes they manipulate statistics to create a crisis. I’m fairly certain that’s what’s going on in Britain as its National Health Service (NHS) redefines female genital mutilation (FGM) to include voluntary vaginal piercings:

The NHS compulsory reporting regulations are intended to protect women and girls from the sometimes fatal practice of intentionally altering or causing injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985, though recent studies suggest some 170,000 women and girls have undergone the procedure, while the NSPCC says 70 women a month seek treatment for the crime.

But under a directive which follows the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) definition of FGM, the term also applies to any women who has consented to having her clitoris or labia pierced for fashion or sexual reasons, meaning medical professionals will be obliged to record such adornments as such.

What does this do to the FGM statistic? It makes it appear to be a much larger problem than it is. Mind you FGM is a horrendous practice but manipulating the statistic to make it appear more common than it really is doesn’t help anybody. Except the state, of course. No crisis goes to waste when a government is around and a sudden “increase” (i.e. change in how the statistic is recorded) in FGM makes a good argument for the government to pass legislation that grants it more investigative and enforcement powers.

Keep this story in mind when you’re looking for a statistic to make your point or somebody throws a government statistic at you as a counterargument. If it’s a government statistic that doesn’t automatically make it impartial or accurate. The statistic very well may have been manipulated for any number of reasons. Furthermore any major changes noted in a statistic could be methodology related and have no bearing on a problem actually being discussed.