Stat's all, folks - telling fact from fiction is the real referendum game
Published 18/04/2015 | 02:30
To quote Mark Twain quoting Benjamin Disraeli: "There are three kinds of lies: Lies, damned lies and statistics."
Now, obviously statistics don't tell actual porkies - they don't creep up their stairs in the dead of night smelling of Irish whiskey and French perfume and swear blind they were just out with the lads.
But statistics can be cherry-picked to fit a desired narrative, with those which don't fit the bill left to languish like the unloved strawberry chocolate in a box of Roses. Statistics - along with their first cousins Research and Studies - are inevitably deployed with great gusto by both sides during referendum battles.
And yesterday a new brigade marched into the escalating affray surrounding the upcoming marriage equality referendum. Mothers and Fathers Matter launched its campaign and their opening press conference was an impressively slick affair. At the head table sat a range of seven spokespersons which included two solicitors, an ecologist and a grandmother.
Dr Tom Flanagan put their case directly, declaring that politicians are keen to argue that there is no connection between this referendum and the article in the Constitution relating to marriage.
Each of the group put forward their views, and during the contribution of one spokesperson, Kate Bopp, the Statistics and Research words were flung about like snuff at a wake. In some detail, she dwelt on the bond between mother and child and father and child.
"We've all heard of the numerous stories of wounded and dying men on battlefields whose last word that they uttered was 'Mother'," she declared.
Kate was exercised over the fate of children who have struggled through life without either a mother or father. She had Research on the matter. "Studies have shown that teens who have grown up without a father are more prone to crime, they have greater presentations of emotional distress: volatile anger in young men and boys, and young women tend to gravitate towards abusive relationships," she declared.
"Now this isn't to say that every child who has grown up without a father will end up in prison or in an abusive relationship, but statistics show these are borne out in research that these are things that will happen to children who grow up without their father," she added.
Alas, when pressed from the floor about the provenance of the Statistics she was quoting, Kate Bopp was unable to produce the pertinent document; she did a quick Google search and read aloud her finding: "63pc of youth suicides are from fatherless homes and that's from the US Department of Health Census," she explained.
But what about the single-parent children who ended up as criminals? Kate added: "The research I read, the way it was phrased was, the prisons are full of young men who never knew their fathers. Statistically, it's been borne out."
But which specific statistics was she referring to? Kate had confidence in the internet. "You can go online and the research is everywhere that will tell you young men who grow up without a father or a paternal influence in their lives are statistically more likely to turn to violence."
Of course, the internet also has Research to prove that the US Government has stashed crashed alien UFOs in Roswell.
But in fairness, both Yes and No camps have called for a fair fight in this referendum. Hopefully, the truth is out there.