Tim Hudak's troubled geometry

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The Ontario election is in full swing, and the Conservative party's campaign is guided by a platform booklet called the "changebook." It's an audacious manifesto for significant change in the policy and the philosophy of government in the province, mapping out a long agenda of measures to cut taxes, balance the budget, privatize government assets and agencies, get tough on criminals, change labour laws and arbitration systems to reduce wage increases, end government support for business investments, and many others. The changebook has drawn criticism from commentators on all points of the political spectrum, most pointedly for its implausible claims to cut taxes, balance the budget faster, yet still increase spending for health and other "priority" services -- all funded from very small cuts to non-priority services.

While I disagree with its overall political thrust, of course, when I read the changebook my attention was diverted in a slightly different direction. I am a self-confessed numbers nerd. I am never happier than when ensconced in front of a big computer spreadsheet, crunching the numbers, generating correlations, punching out tables and graphs. And as I examined the numerous charts and graphs that illustrate Mr. Hudak's platform, niggling concerns began to gnaw away in the statistically-inclined regions of my brain. The lines were too smooth. The contrasts too dramatic. The proportions too extreme.

I got out a ruler to actually measure the bars and circles in the various graphs. I double-checked the data and the cited sources. I examined the proportions illustrated in the graphs, comparing them to the numbers contained in the changebook's text.

There are 13 statistical graphs contained in the changebook.

In fact, not one of the 13 graphs is completely labelled and sourced, consistently scaled, and accurately graphed. This consistent failure to accurately and completely present the empirical data cannot be ascribed to sloppiness or typographical errors. The statistical graphs in the changebook have been presented in ways that are clearly unacceptable in normal academic or professional practice. They consistently mislead the reader about the relative proportions of the variables being discussed. The changebook's graphs reflect a consistent willingness to bend the statistical truth, and a disrespect for normal standards of honesty and transparency in written work. From a group that aims to govern the province, this pattern is deeply concerning.

My complete dissection of the 13 graphs might not be the most thrilling reading (unless, like me, you are a true numbers nerd). But it casts major questions on the numerical credibility of the Tory platform. Here's the link to the full study, called Graphs for Dummies, that was released Tuesday by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternative's Ontario office:

http://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/reports/graphs-dummies

Jim Stanford is an economist with CAW. This article was first posted on The Progressive Economics Forum.

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