Honesty in Data and Its Presentation

The COVID-19 virus has certainly had its share of controversy. Lack of honesty in presenting data to the public does not help. One of the more blatant misrepresentations was uncovered in Kansas through a freedom of information request made by the Kansas Policy Institute. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment released a chart that purported to show that the 15 counties that had followed Governor Laura Kelly’s mask mandate were successful in reducing COVID-19 cases at a far greater rate than the 90 counties that failed to enforce the mandate.

The chart however, used different y axes for the county groups. So, of course the 90 counties would seem to have a higher number of cases.

The Kansas Policy Center decided to take the data it obtained and do what most of us learned in sixth grade: When doing comparison graphs, plot two different color lines using the same x and y axes.

Take a look at the graph and you will see the counties without the mandate did better. You will also see that the Kansas DHE chose not to start its graphs until July 12, which was 9 days after the mandate went into effect. The Kansas Policy Institute chose to start on Day One of the mask mandate, and the 90 counties did even better in that period.

Conflicting reports about COVID-19 data are troubling. One cannot really follow the science if there are two sets of data for the same events. The Barometer thinks back to a now departed and dear colleague who once said in a meeting during which we huddled over a PhD candidate’s puzzling research data, “Figures don’t lie, but liars do figure.” Politics makes for some figuring and even stranger charts in these “all is political” times.

About mmjdiary

Professor Marianne Jennings is an emeritus professor of legal and ethical studies from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, retiring in 2011 after 35 years of teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in ethics and the legal environment of business. During her tenure at ASU, she served as director of the Joan and David Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics from 1995-1999. In 2006, she was appointed faculty director for the W.P. Carey Executive MBA Program. She has done consulting work for businesses and professional groups including AICPA, Boeing, Dial Corporation, Edward Jones, Mattel, Motorola, CFA Institute, Southern California Edison, the Institute of Internal Auditors, AIMR, DuPont, AES, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Motorola, Hy-Vee Foods, IBM, Bell Helicopter, Amgen, Raytheon, and VIAD. The sixth edition of her textbook, Case Studies in Business Ethics, was published in February 2011. The ninth edition of her textbook, Business: lts Legal, Ethical and Global Environment was published in January 2011. The 23rd edition of her book, Business Law: Principles and Cases, will be published in January 2013. The tenth edition of her book, Real Estate Law, will also be published in January 2013. Her book, A Business Tale: A Story of Ethics, Choices, Success, and a Very Large Rabbit, a fable about business ethics, was chosen by Library Journal in 2004 as its business book of the year. A Business Tale was also a finalist for two other literary awards for 2004. In 2000 her book on corporate governance was published by the New York Times MBA Pocket Series. Her book on long-term success, Building a Business Through Good Times and Bad: Lessons from Fifteen Companies, Each With a Century of Dividends, was published in October 2002 and has been used by Booz, Allen, Hamilton for its work on business longevity. Her latest book, The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse was published by St. Martin’s Press in July 2006 and has been a finalist for two book awards. Her weekly columns are syndicated around the country, and her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Reader's Digest. A collection of her essays, Nobody Fixes Real Carrot Sticks Anymore, first published in 1994 is still being published. She has been a commentator on business issues on All Things Considered for National Public Radio. She has served on four boards of directors, including Arizona Public Service (1987-2000), Zealous Capital Corporation, and the Center for Children with Chronic Illness and Disability at the University of Minnesota. She was appointed to the board of advisors for the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators in 2004 and served on the board of trustees for Think Arizona, a public policy think tank. She has appeared on CNBC, CBS This Morning, the Today Show, and CBS Evening News. In 2010 she was named one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Business Ethics by Trust Across America. Her books have been translated into four different languages. She received the British Emerald award for authoring one of their top 50 articles in management publications, chosen from over 15,000 articles. Personal: Married since 1976 to Terry H. Jennings, Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Deputy County Attorney; five children: Sarah, Sam, and John, and the late Claire and Hannah Jennings.
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