Fact or Fiction? Maintaining Credibility

I was recently browsing various websites when one particular news ticker caught my eye.  It reported that “The Top 10 in-demand jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2004.”  Wow, that was a pretty shocking statistic!  Ironically, I was reading the March edition of HR Magazine the very next day when I ran across an article titled “Where the Jobs Are.”  The article included a sidebar “Top 10 ‘In-Demand’ Occupations.”

Naturally, I was curious to see what these jobs are that did not exist in 2004.  Here was the list: 

  1. Registered Nurses
  2. General and operations managers
  3. Physicians and surgeons
  4. Elementary school teachers
  5. Accountants and auditors
  6. Computer software engineers
  7. Sales representatives and managers
  8. Computer systems analysts
  9. Management analysts
  10. Secondary school teachers

Since this list was completely incompatible with what I had read the previous day, I decided to investigate.  Since HR Magazine is produced by the highly respected Society for Human Resource Management, my first suspicion lay with the web news ticker information I saw.

A quick check via Google pointed me to the widely circulated “Did You Know?” video that has been viewed over 5 million times according to the “shifthappens” wikispace .  In this video, it says, “According to former Secretary of Education Richard Riley, the top 10 jobs that will be in demand in 2010 didn’t exist in 2004.” 

Since a couple of other “facts” from this video had also been featured on the original news ticker, it seemed logical that this was the source for the info.  However, the conflict between this video and the SHRM list was not resolved.  So, I went in search for the original comments from former Secretary of Education Richard Riley.  It turns out that he did say this and was quoted in a book titled The Jobs Revolution: Changing How America Works.  But, here is the important fact that solves the mystery – the book was published in 2004.  If you go back and look at the quote, it now seems clear what has happened.

In 2004, Riley was making a prediction that he likely intended to make a point about how the pace of change would continue in the upcoming years.  That is far different that reporting his prediction as a fact in 2009 when it has clearly not come true.

Now, I don’t think the owner of the original news ticker that I read was trying to mislead anyone.  They simply picked up a widely circulated item and phrased it as a fact.  But, it certainly would make me question the credibility of other facts that I read on that ticker in the future.  Perhaps there is a lesson for all of us in this example.

I will talk in future posts about the importance of credibility, focusing primarily on expertise credibility and relationship credibility.  But, this example reminds us of the importance of what I’ll call “factual credibility.”  I use this term to differentiate it from a situation where someone is purposefully lying or being dishonest.

In our industry, we continue to see “statistics” cited in the popular press that are hard to substantiate.  For instance, whenever we have gone through an economic downturn, my phone starts ringing with reporters from various news outlets that want to do a story on how an economic downturn results in either: a) increased employee theft; b) increased shoplifting; c) increased burglaries and robberies; or d) all of the above.  They are usually disappointed that I will not endorse the concept carte blanche.

When I explain the nuances involved in statistically supporting the theory they are advancing, they grow bored and I can tell they simply want to call someone else who might be likely to enthusiastically agree to the premise.  It may very well be that employee theft, for instance, goes up in times of economic difficulty, but given the fact that the seminal report in our industry has a lag time of many months in reporting estimates of employee theft, it seems hard to believe we could detect a statistically significant trend in a matter of weeks.

Yes, the theory sounds reasonable, but there is also a theory that during times of relatively high unemployment, employees are less likely to steal and they realize the ability to replace their current job with one of approximate quality is diminished.

 Therefore, it is imperative on all of us to be careful in pronouncing theory, predictions, estimates, or guesses as fact.  An example might be the dollar figures that are often cited relative to the total impact of organized retail crime in the U.S.  There is no doubt that losses from ORC can be immense and that it is an issue that is worthy of our attention.  However, before we cite a specific number for our industry as “fact,” let’s make sure we can support it and maintain our credibility, lest we lose our bully pulpit on any issue.

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Originally published in RILA Report – Asset Protection, April 2009

One Response to Fact or Fiction? Maintaining Credibility
  1. mnikelo ndlovu
    July 16, 2009 | 8:32 AM

    Good point. I too was initially a bit mislead by that phrase a few days ago on a radio show here @ home in South Africa. I also get the angle from which Mr. Riley is coming from in terms of the change in pace of jobs these days. “factual credibility” is very essential and I tooo shall in future think twice about taking a piece of news like that at face-value. Well written article otherwise