CHAPTER 15

Speaking Truth to Power

—Gahan Wilson, American cartoonist.

A few years ago, I would not have considered this chapter appropriate, let alone necessary. Over the past few years, though, public perceptions have hardened about the motivation of people who present numbers. With respect to corporate financial results, there have been a few spectacular cases of accounting fraud, such as Enron, HealthSouth, and MCI WorldCom. The aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis of 2007–08 has included many allegations of fraudulent presenting of numbers. And even though the high-technology bubble of the late 1990s provoked very few criminal complaints, it still led many people to believe that those who present financial information are interested in following the rules only for the sake of compliance, and not to provide clear, comprehensible information about their businesses.

And the perceptions of those in the public policy arena aren't any kinder. With respect to the numbers we're given on important public policy issues like fiscal policy, taxation, and healthcare all too many people—both presenters and audiences—look at the numbers through the filter of partisan politics.

These perceptions are a real shame, and it's the wrong way to look at the craft of quantation. In this chapter, we will examine the topic of honesty in the presentation of numbers. Why is honesty important? Does ...

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