There is no denying the influence of statistics, focus groups and polls on the American scene. They are the life blood of political operatives, corporate marketers, entertainment industry executives and special interest advocates, among others — for better and worse. With great power comes great responsibility. The value of collected and shared information lies with the integrity and credibility of the source as well as the interpretation and statistical accuracy.
Three of America’s greatest thought-provokers shared some skepticism on this subject.
Mark Twain warned, “Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable. … There are lies, damned lies and statistics.”
In a Time magazine article (4-22-10) about Steve Jobs and Apple’s launch of the iPad, writer Lev Grossman noted, “Apple never holds focus groups. It doesn’t ask people what they want; it tells them what they’re going to need.”
Public relations master Edward L. Bernays (in 1952) expressed concern about public opinion polls. “Polls are an enormously useful implement when honestly, efficiently and intelligently gathered and understood. … Inaccurate polls and interpretations … are a danger to our democratic society because (1) they have as strong an influence on the public as accurate polls; (2) the misuse of polls for biased or venal purposes can be extremely harmful; and (3) leaders who misinterpret or distort polls are a menace to society. … Polls should be our servants, not our masters.”