Hitting the Numbers

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You won’t find Ben Addemup abusing numbers. But the director of the nonprofit organization Numbers Count Two says cases of numerical mistreatment are multiplying, both nationally and globally.

“Politicians consider it their duty to bludgeon figures into submission to support popular positions,” says Mr. Addemup. “They may be the worst abusers. Accountants, statisticians and economists come in a close second.”

Of particular concern is the maltreatment of numbers in government statistics. For instance, reports have surfaced that data was tortured in the preparation of the newly released proposed federal budget. There have also been rumors of innocent numbers being snatched from mid-air and used for questionable purposes in the aftermath of natural disasters. In addition, it’s suspected some numbers have been viciously bent and twisted in under-oath testimony.

To counteract the callous cruelty, Numbers Count Two wants the government to pass legislation making number exploitation illegal. Mr. Addemup admits the proposal is politically complicated. The main problem: Few congressional leaders are fluent in the language of numbers. Unless that changes, rough calculations will continue to cause brutality in the handling of figures.

Another holdup: Even proponents of the push for legislation remain divided about the benefits. They see number sensitivity as an issue with little support, and would prefer to work for reform in areas with more chance of success, such as a tax law overhaul.

Though he admits to being outnumbered, Mr. Addemup intends to continue his campaign. “It just makes sense to treat them right,” he says. “After all, we count on numbers.”

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