Dumbing down:

Ailie Bruins writes: Re. “Dumbing down our politics: Lindsay Tanner discusses Sideshow with Bernard Keane” (yesterday, item 2). I too lament the dumbing down of politics and its perversion of our democracy.

Missing in this debate is the  discussion about those hired professionals (often ex journalists which may explain the silence) who  deliberately and  expertly control information, misinform, and confuse, i.e. dumb down.

Historically in Australia, we have condemned secretive governments and agencies such as the South African secret police, the East German Stasi, the KGB.  Yet we now tolerate,  unknown armies of secret message controllers, reputation managers, spin doctors — hired for unknown dollar figures, by unknown backers, to get unknown access to political power which is unavailable to the average citizen.

Legislation should be considered, which prevents the public relations/media minding  industry from acting in secret. Consideration should also be given to providing a body such as the Australian Press Council (APC) with more power, because right now the APC’s  influence  in protecting the free press and upholding the profession of journalism, is imperceptible.

The Greens:

Andrew Dempster writes: Re. “Essential: when it comes to politics, the media aren’t biased, but…” (yesterday, item 1). Bernard Keane makes a (the?) classic mistake when interpreting statistics: “Greens voters also defied stereotypes in a question about interest in politics. Far from being the most politically-engaged voters, Greens were less engaged than Labor or Liberal voters, with…”  and then some numbers.

There was a statistics-based debate in the 80s about whether playing Dungeons and Dragons caused people to be violent, whereas the much more straightforward (Occam’s razor) explanation was simply that murderers liked playing the game.

A more sensible reading of Bernard’s statistics might be that the Greens have attracted the less engaged voters, *because* they’re less engaged.

The Aussie Dollar:

Adam Schwab writes: Crikey reader Richard Davoren (yesterday, comments) claimed that my article about the Australian dollar was “misleading” and that I “cherry picked” dates to prove my argument. Davoren then proceeded to provide not merely misleading figures himself, but statistics that were grossly incorrect to try to prove his point.

The original article did not contend that long-term AUD wasn’t upwards (that has been the case over a number of years), but rather, that recent AUD appreciation (which has seen the AUD rocket above parity) is due to US Dollar weakness, rather than some sort of Australian economic miracle. This is a point which has been echoed by various economic commentators. That’s why recent data on AUD cross rates were used. It wasn’t cherry picking, it was simply explaining a point. When discussing the short term performance of an asset, it makes sense to use its recent performance, rather than a long term trend.

Davoren then claimed:

“…our dollar started its ascent well before September last year as the following graphs show. So I have looked at our currency since Labor won the 2007 election … it is the strength of our resource prices that is the major cause of our improving dollar. The Australian dollar has appreciated against the Rouble by 135.77%, the Swedish Krona by 116.15% and the Euro by 123.58% since Rudd won the election. But pick any time on the time line, the trend is up. Where does Schwab get his statistics?”

I got my statistics from XE.com (and cross checked against Oanda) — as for Davoren, it appears he made them up and hoped no one would notice. Using Kevin Rudd’s appointment (the time chosen by Davoren for his comparison) on 3 December 2007, one AUD bought 21.3 Rubles — today, it buys around 30 Roubles — an increase of 41 percent (not 135.7 percent as claimed by Davoren who appears to need a new calculator, or a basic course in mathematics). The AUD/Ruble exchange rate is also down from its peak last November.

Davoren’s inability to count was also evident in his other “statistics”. The Australian Dollar has appreciated against the Krona by 18 percent (not 116 percent) and against the Euro by 22 percent (not 123 percent).

Richard, in the future, when accusing someone of misleading, it’s preferable that you get your basic facts right.