I have seen many instances in which people have  made decisions based on bad data…or NON-data.  I distinguish bad data from non-data in that bad data is either out of date or inaccurate in its calculation.  Non-data is data that is not relevant to the decision being made.

Last week I was watching an interview with some prominent individuals following the horrible events in Newtown, Ct.  Needless to say, the discussion was about gun control options.

One of the participants, a very high-profile politician, was taking the position that changes to gun control laws do not work.  He emphasized his point by giving the example that Chicago has invested lawmaker time and taxpayer dollars in changing gun control laws, and there were still 512 murders in Chicago last year…the highest in the country.  This from a prominent politician.  This from a man who at one time was vying for the office of President.  This on national television in front of an audience of millions of people who will believe what they hear from this person because he used a statistic.

The sad part was that the moderator and all of the other participants nodded in agreement!

While it may be true that Chicago had 512 murders last year, and while it may also be true that 512 was the highest in the country, it is incorrect to draw the conclusion that changes to gun control laws were ineffective based on those two pieces of data.  The relevant statistic would have been to compare the number of gun related crimes for a period of time prior to the changes in gun control laws to the current number for an equal amount of time after the gun control laws were put into effect.  Another would be to compare the rates of change in gun related crimes in Chicago to other major metropolitan areas in which no laws had been changed for that same period of time.

Folks, we gotta be smarter than this!  It was no accident that this individual used ridiculous data to make his point…he is quite bright and he has an agenda.  He knows that most people will not think beyond the words to draw their own conclusion about what he has said.  This is true not only in politics, but in business.  Things get moving fast and we rely so much on data that comes off the computer often without really knowing the derivation of the data and the calculations that are going on in that black box.  We often do not take the time to make sure it is real data, yet we make important decisions based on it.

You must challenge the data…verify the accuracy of calculation…ensure the relevance of the information gathered in relation to the conclusions drawn.  Do not assume that the data you are being given is correct and without bias.