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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Numbers Not Provided (And They Really Should Be)

I was listening to NPR on my commute earlier this week when they ran a story about FMLA leave. As good journalists, they got different views. One view (against the act) was that “it gets abused” followed by a statistic that the greatest FMLA leave day of the year is the day after the Superbowl. Now, it’s true that this statistic is useful and interesting (although I’m curious as to how much more common FMLA leave on that day), but what’s really lacking is how often is this leave abused? The very fact of the abuse isn’t really interesting. It would be very newsworthy indeed if you could find any such law that was never abused, in fact. What’s missing is how big a problem the abuse is. Surely most of us would agree that a single case of abuse per year (almost certainly too low, of course) is essentially irrelevant to policy around the law. On the other hand, if 80% of all leaves taken were found to be fraudulent cases, most would likely agree that that’s too many and that the law needs to be changed. Now, the real number is almost certainly well between those extremes. But without it, it’s difficult to know what to make of this case. So then we ask: why were numbers not provided? It’s probably not the case that he’s hiding them (although in other situations, that might seem more likely than here). Does the speaker lack the statistics we need? Then why isn’t he trying to find them, perhaps with research? If it’s important enough to be speaking out for a policy change, it seems like it’s important enough to get the numbers.

posted by John Weiss at 12:39  

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