Ars Technica has posted an investigative report looking into the numbers the copyright industry uses to justify the legislation it asks for to help fight piracy.
By more conventional standards of empirical verification, however, the numbers fare less well. Try to follow the thread of citations to their source, and you encounter a fractal tangle of recursive reference that resembles nothing so much as the children’s game known, in less-PC times, as “Chinese whispers,” and these days more often called “Telephone.” Usually, the most respectable-sounding authority to cite for the numbers (the FBI for the dollar amount, Customs for the jobs figure) is also the most prevalent—but in each case, that authoritative “source” proves to be a mere waystation on a long and tortuous journey. So what is the secret origin of these ubiquitous statistics? What doomed planet’s desperate alien statisticians rocketed them to Kansas? Ars did its best to find the fountainhead. Here’s what we discovered.
It strikes me that the estimates bandied about to argue for and against various policies are almost never have any kind of legitimate basis in fact, and yet they are treated as though they are hugely important. I guess numbers just make people feel better. After all, Congress just approved a $700,000,000,000 bailout package with the knowledge that the amount requested was a total guess.
Leave a Reply