The (Ongoing) Vitality of Mythical Numbers
Does ID theft really cost $48 billion a year?
Scholar Peter Reuter picked up Singer's topic in a sequel titled "The (Continued) Vitality of Mythical Numbers," which Public Interest published in its Spring 1984 issue. Discussing the estimated number of heroin addicts, Reuter writes:
Behind the complex estimating formula is some very questionable, but unquestioned, data collection. There is a strong interest in keeping the number high and none in keeping it correct. In that respect the estimated number of addicts is one of a class of "mythical numbers" that is becoming the routine product of government agencies. These numbers are generated by the demand that the government appear to know a great deal more than it actually does. [Emphasis added.]
Mythic numbers are produced, concluded Reuter, when 1) no constituency exists for keeping the numbers accurate, but a large constituency exists for keeping them high; 2) there is a lack of scholarly interest in the topic; and 3) the numbers have little policy consequence.
The $48 billion estimate qualifies on all three counts, and given the debunking by Foust, the number should be exiled from news stories forever.
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