Friday, September 17, 2010

The Government and Statistics

While watching the Ken Burns documentary, The Civil War, I was reminded of two things governments do exceedingly well.  They collect nearly endless amounts of information and generate statistics.  During the program, the following statistics were put forth:  for both the north and the south, the average height of a solider was five feet eight inches and they weighed one-hundred and forty-three pounds.  Their odds of dying in combat were 1 in 65, they stood a 1 in 10 chance of being wounded, and a 1 in 13 chance of dying from disease.   The minimum enlistment age was eighteen; the average age of a solider was twenty-five. 

The recruitment officers were extremely flexible and allowed drummer boys as young as nine to serve.  By the war’s end, 100,000 soldiers, not yet fifteen years of age served in the Union army.  It is believed that private William Black of the Union army  was the youngest solider wounded; he was not ever twelve years of age.  Astounding!

As a former government employee, one of my most dreaded duties was to compile several separate annual accomplishment reports.  I learned at a very early age that governmental agencies lived and died by their annual accomplishments!  Seldom did anyone question the outcome of a task; most of the questions centered on the amount accomplished.

My least favorite report was titled “the pesticide clearinghouse report”; a lengthy document sent to the department of agriculture which summarized our plans for the application of pesticides to the forest.  This one report took the better part of a day to compile and in the early days was typed prior to submission.  In the twenty plus years we prepared the document, only twice did someone from the department of agriculture ever call with a question about our report.  That fact alone always left me wondering!

The answer to me wondering came one morning in the early 2000s when I received a call from a sectary from the department of agriculture.  She explained that she was new to the job and having recently received our report she was uncertain what to do with it!  After getting over my initial shock, I asked her if someone actually reviewed the document to which she responded no.  Apparently the person who did that job had retired several years ago and no one else assumed that task.  As far as she could tell, our report was the only one that had been received annually for the past several years!  I quickly told her that I would make her life my pleasant in the coming years by never submitting the report again.  Government statistics, you have to love them!!

10 comments:

SilverNeurotic said...

The reason I abandoned my studies in Psychology was because of the statistics. I just don't understand them, especially as they are so easily manipulated.

Steve Skinner said...

Of the many classes I took in college, few caused more pain than the stat classes!

Earl said...

Funny story about that report, Steve. I found that something once created by Government is almost impossible to get rid of...be it a report or a whole department of people. It was pure luck you got that call from the new secretary. :-)

Steve Skinner said...

I always wondered what happened to that secretary; once here action was discovered they likely fired her!

Paul said...

Steve: That is funny. While I was reading I was thinking: "The damn thing probably didn't even get read.". In the end, it seems that is the truth. LOL. Our tax dollars at work. I doubt that she ever got fired because no one else up the chain read the report either. :)

Steve Skinner said...

Paul, are you ever right! When I think of some of the things that we would spend hours working on and then ended up on a dusty shelf in a dark storage room.

Deanna said...

As a former government employee, this post hit home with me. The numbers are manipulated to gain the outcome wanted. It drove me crazy. Stats was my least favorite class in college - along with Algebra.

The stats on the soldiers is astounding. I wonder if they were manipulated...

Glad you were able to make that lady's life more pleasant!

Steve Skinner said...

Working for the government wasn't a bad job but it sure had its moments!

Pamela said...

ay yi yi yi. This is scary.

Steve Skinner said...

Pamela, it sure is!!