Sorry, wrong number: The use and misuse of numerical facts in analysis and media reporting of energy issues
Students of public policy sometimes envision an idealized policy process where competent data collection and incisive analysis on both sides of a debate lead to reasoned judgments and sound decisions. Unfortunately, numbers that prove decisive in policy debates are not always carefully developed, credibly documented, or correct. This paper presents four widely cited examples of numbers in the energy field that are either misleading or wrong. It explores the origins of these numbers, how they missed the mark, and how they have been misused by both analysts and the media. In addition, it describes and uses a three-stage analytical process for evaluating such statistics that involves defining terms and boundaries, assessing underlying data, and critically analyzing arguments.