How Politicians Lie with Statistics

On Friday night, as I Uber-ed back from a holiday party, I came across this headline on and immediately thought of the statistics classic, How to Lie with Statistics:

Paul Ryan says U.S. taxes on small businesses is 44.6 percent," versus 15 percent in Canada (Politifact rating: True)

I’ve had some problems with fact-checking websites before, so I read the link and then went to the comments on reddit and found this at the top. I encourage you read the whole comment, but here’s the most relevant part:

The report Ryan cites uses the top marginal tax rate for its figures. Ryan’s particular phrasing is “successful small businesses,” which I assume is defined as a business that reaches the highest possible tax bracket. This is not necessarily the typical experience of a small business… most businesses don’t even come close to reaching the tax bracket that’s expected to pay the rate Ryan cites.

This is like a someone shouting, “We’re all gonna die!” While the statement is technically true, it’s not relevant to most people at any given time. If a regular person acted like this we’d think they were a little off. When a politician does it their statements are rated as true by the fact-checkers and it makes it to the front page of a popular news website.

Depressingly, this has been one of Paul Ryan’s talking points for years. This is why we need fewer career politicians and more statisticians, scientists, and engineers working in government.

Eternal vigilance is not only the price of liberty; eternal vigilance is the price of human decency. - Aldous Huxley