Sep 26, 2012

Report Whacking: your how-to guide on demolishing rubbish reports

You too can demolish "independent reports" with this handy guide to the scams used by the consultants and PR agencies who write them (the media isn't very good at it).

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

I seem to spend a large amount of my time in this job explaining in detail why a particular report produced by a particular organisation is particularly problematic.

But it’s increasingly a Canute-like effort. The tide of stupid is rising too fast. Every day, someone somewhere produces a report not with the intent of adding to the total of human knowledge about the objective state of the world (pffft, whatever “objective” is) but in order to influence policy in someone’s interests rather than the public interest, or to publicise themselves. And an ever-more-harried and under-resourced mainstream media lacks the resources to properly analyse these reports: there are only so many Ross Gittinses and Peter Martins to go around, ready to call bullshit on the stuff being served up by special interests and self-promoters.

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20 thoughts on “Report Whacking: your how-to guide on demolishing rubbish reports

  1. David Griffin

    Did you coin the “reverse magic pudding” bernard, because I’m goong to use that!

  2. Dajopa

    In the words of Mozorov, it is just marketing masquerading as theory

  3. paddy

    Worth the read for your startlingly good analysis of “Major Events Mathematics” Bernard.
    Now if you could just come up with a fool proof methodology for applying it to everyday events….We’d be talking a Nobel prize for Economics. (Get writing)

  4. Bill Hilliger

    Good article Bernard. Many feasibility reports and studies do use the three most regular tricks you describe. Nowadays these reports and studies are nothing more than just PLEASABILITY studies and reports with particular outcomes to satisfy the paying client.

  5. Coaltopia

    Excellent article Bernard – thanks.

    I also like when Big Coal claims that a certain policy will “cost jobs” and provide a large figure like 15,000. Jobs that never existed and probably never will.

    Fighting this tide of stupid certainly seems like Trivial Pursuit.

  6. Come On Carlton

    If it’s ” whacking ” day?.. please whack slowly and then whack faster.

  7. klewso

    So that 1 could be “Who commissioned the report and what predetermined path do they want to justify”?

    [Isn’t “Economics – the science of predicting the past”?]

  8. John Bennetts

    Major Event Mathematics has a branch called Traffic Prediction Mathematics.

    Every major capital city in Australia, if not the universe, has an example which has either cost the public a heap or bankrupted its proponents or both, depending on contractual clauses.

    It’s never the fault of the traffic study – those perverse drivers just fail repeatedly to join the conga-line towards the toll gates. This failure is 100% certain but also, by the laws of TPM, absolutely unexpected and unpredictable.

  9. Steve777

    Is that the ‘Carbon tax’ wrecking ball in the illustration, working its way through the Australian economy?

  10. Steve777

    A very simple test of a claim being made in a report or elsewhere is to do a rough check on any numbers quoted, with the help of Google. It will often reveal that the claim or finding is ridiculous. A recent example was the Club industry’s estimated cost of $5 billion for pre commitment technology. With about 200,000 machines in Australia that is about $25,000 for each machine, which is the approximate cost of a new one. The claim was clearly rubbish because it seemed to assume that every poker machine had to be replaced. In the case of Carbon Pricing, given that power costs were to increase by about 10%, any attribution of a cost increase of more than a few percent to carbon pricing is suspicious. It could happen but should be challenged.

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