Even numbers lie!


It has long been said that a picture was worth a thousand words, but with the evolution of the tools of technology and applications such as Photoshop, the reliability of images is highly suspect. The same appears to be the case with figures, data and statistics. It has been said that numbers do not lie, but today with the spread of the phenomenon of false news, numbers are also a matter of doubt and concern.

I have a set of news stories backed by “numbers”. These stories cover very serious topics, but it is clear that the numbers involved mean that the stories can be seen from more than one angle. Various economists around the world have glorified the shale oil revolution and how it has made the United States a serious competitor in the international oil market and provided America with self-sufficiency and exportability. Furthermore, they say that advances in modern technology will contribute to the continuous reduction of the price of production and thus keep shale oil competitive and profitable.

In fact shale oil wells are as much as 100 to 200 meters in depth and the production difficulties are much greater than those involved with traditional oil wells of lesser depth. There are other reports from serious sources that indicate that there is evidence that shale oil producers in the United States face a severe problem, namely that the wells are no longer producing the quantities that were at first expected, and that, therefore, there is an urgent need to revise the calculations based on those initial expectations.

If this information is correct (and it does not at the moment seem to be questionable), it will have significant geopolitical dimensions, and may explain American involvement in different regions of the world. In Venezuela, an important oil supplier, the US has become publicly involved at the political level in support of a change of regime.

America has also shown interest in reengineering its economic relations with Mexico, one of its most important oil allies, and with redrawing “special” oil relations with Iraq. There is also the return of US interest in Libyan oil, which is an important competitor of shale oil, while at the same time it is clear that America is carefully watching developments in Algeria.

Which numbers can we believe? Information can be distorted and because there are many groups with different interests whose goals are to present their point of view as the one that is correct, it is clear that “truth” has many facets.

The eternal wisdom remains that “knowledge is power” but the new reality today shows us that a picture is no longer worth a thousand words and that numbers can in fact, if not lie, then mislead us.

Clearly, this is not limited to the case of shale oil alone, but applies to various economic and political topics. A “wrong number” is no longer only used to describe a telephone call, but can also express the points of view put forth by officials and experts around the world.