Keith notes that ACR, the Association of Community Retailers, which lobbies against regulations that impose costs on small tobacco retailers like dairies, gets PR support from Imperial Tobacco. Keith calls it astroturfing. That's possible, but I don't think it rules out that the group of represented small retailers genuinely supports the policies promoted by ACR and simply shares interests with Imperial on those issues.
Either way, it didn't take long after Keith broke the story for the NZ media to forget that ACR enjoyed industry support. Writes Keith:
You could chalk it all up to that it takes time to build up experience on a file and that erosion of profits in journalism have knocked out the senior folks who remembered what happened a year ago. But that can't be it when a 10-second Google search, or simply "asking if something makes any goddamn sense" would be enough to shoot something down. But when Radio New Zealand happily reports that each smoker costs the economy three times per capita GDP, folks aren't running the simple checks.
It has to come down to demand. If your audience take stats as infotainment, why worry too much if the stats are right? In fact, you can't afford to worry about it too much. And if the customers don't care whether the stats are right, then supply will arise to fill demand for the kinds of stats for which somebody's willing to pay (BERL on alcohol, PWC on Adult and Continuing Ed, many others in the back pages of the blog, the whole InfoGraphics problem cited by Megan McArdle...).
On bad stats, at least we have StatsChat. The University of Auckland's stats department now gives a prize for picking the week's (or month's) worst stat that's appeared in NZ press outlets. I recently nominated Radio NZ's exaggeration of the costs of smoking. Hopefully, shaming news outlets and the producers of bad stats will eventually have some effect. But it's harder to think of useful interventions that fix the kind of sloppiness Keith's citing.
Keith's interview on Radio NZ's interesting; it'll likely here be archived soon.