COMMENT: Statistics without context confuses debate

“There are three kinds of lies: Lies, damned lies and statistics.” A quote possibly by British PM Benjamin Disraeli, but made popular by US author Mark Twain.

Regardless from which side of the globe it comes, it has particular relevance this week in the Bega Valley.

When politicians spout statistics to further an agenda, you can put money on there being an opposing voice waiting in the wings to refute them – particularly with the scent of a state election within 18 months.

But who are we supposed to believe? Do we trust either side?

NSW Labor Leader Luke Foley dropped in to Bega this week – or as Liberal Bega MP Andrew Constance says the “fly-by-nighter political hack”. He was here to discuss issues with our new regional hospital – not surprising given its rocky beginnings.

Both Mr Foley and Opposition Health spokesman Walt Secord used statistics  around waiting times at the South East Regional Hospital to have a dig at their Liberal counterparts.

So emergency waiting times have increased at the SERH when compared to the older Bega District Hospital? Terrible news.

Switch to the incumbent government and those same statistics with a little context – say for example, the SERH emergency department is seeing an increased number of patients from a wider intake area that the older hospital – things look a little rosier.

Meanwhile, as council considers fluoride for several shire drinking water systems, opponents are out in force referencing studies and statistics on the dangers posed by the potentially toxic chemical.

Those for fluoride counter with scientific reviews into fluoride and its lack of health issues when ingested at recommended levels. 

On the receiving end of these “lies, damned lies and statistics” is us, the community – arguably the major beneficiary (or otherwise) of the services being argued over at a government level. 

And it’s the community that remains torn – divided and confused. How do we make an informed choice when even our elected officials can’t agree on facts when given the same sets of data?

At the council meeting Cr Robyn Bain took a balanced approach – “For every argument for fluoride I find one against…we need to ask our community”.

So the community does have power after all.