Alf’s mate Murray McCully is inclined – if you give him an inch – to take a mile.
But he should not be condemned for this.
Nor should he be condemned for confusing $10 with – let’s say – $110 or $1200.
At least, he should not be condemned if Alf is right in identifying a new medical condition.
One of its effects is to dull the senses involved in distinguishing between an inch and whatever number of inches make up a mile, or between a centimetre and 1000 centimetres, or between $1 and $50.
Being numbed or mesmerised by numbers, in other words.
It can be likened to the colour blindness that afflicts some people.
Alf has been observing Murray for some time now and has been keeping notes, which will become the basis for an article he will send to The Lancet.
The medical world will then be alerted to the condition which Alf has labelled mathematical discombobulation syndrome.
Obviously such a condition would explain a headline like this at Stuff today – Minister asked to explain ‘massive discrepancy’
The headline alerts readers to news that –
The Minister of sport says there’s no discrepancy between what he told Parliament it cost to rebrand Sport and Recreation New Zealand, and the actual cost, which was nearly three times higher.
Clearly, if you are suffering from mathematical discombobulation syndrome, you won’t readily see a discrepancy between two numbers.
Fair to say, McCully has a different explanation.
The minister, Murray McCully, attributed the difference to the Sunday Star-Times asking a “broader” question.
But we should not be surprised if he would rather we think different questions have been asked and hence different numbers given in response.
He would not want the voting public – or any public, come to think of it – to start talking about his shortcomings with measurements. In much the same way, a colour therapist would not want his patients to know he/she is colour blind.
But what is the discrepancy under discussion, in the McCully case?
It’s got something to do with rebranding costs.
Last week the Star-Times revealed taxpayers footed a $215,846 bill to rebrand the Crown’s recreational entity as Sport New Zealand.
So what’s the fuss?
Ah. It’s that –
In February, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters asked McCully in Parliament how much the rebrand cost, and, in a written response, was told $76,195.
Actually, as you can see by checking the Parliamentary records, McCully said a bit more than that.
The question is important, too, when it comes to checking out how a simple question can be broadened by mischievous journalists.
646 (2012). Rt Hon Winston Peters to the Minister for Sport and Recreation (22 Feb 2012): What is the estimated cost behind rebranding Sport and Recreation New Zealand as Sport New Zealand?
Hon Murray McCully (Minister for Sport and Recreation) replied: A decision was made not to incur significant costs in the rebranding process and to proceed with a soft and gradual rollout. The estimated cost of the brand development is $76,195.
So that’s the cost for parliamentary questioning purposes.
Stuff has more numbers, however, and says –
But costings obtained under the Official Information Act show the project’s total expenses were spread across three areas – brand strategy and development, sector rebrand costs, and Sport NZ rebranding. The $76,195 McCully declared was for strategy and development only.
Sector rebrand costs were another $79,329, and Sport NZ’s rebrand costs were $60,322, taking the total spend to $139,651 more than McCully declared.
Obviously reluctant to admit he suffers from mathematical discombobulation syndrome, McCully came up with the explanation about him answering different questions on these occasions.
“You [the Star-Times] asked a much broader question of Sport NZ, and received a much broader answer,” McCully said yesterday.
“There is no discrepancy. The answer I gave, that the estimated cost of the brand development was $76,195, was absolutely correct. My answer also made it clear that there would be `a soft and gradual rollout’, referring to the ongoing process of incorporating the new brand over time.”
And which politician is most likely to be expressing serious dissatisfaction with that explanation?
But Peters said the “massive discrepancy” was “seriously significant”, and called for McCully to explain it further, because there was “suspicion that someone is misleading Parliament”.
“There’s a massive discrepancy between what McCully told me, which was $76,195, and the total rebrand costs,” he said.
“It takes it up to $215,846, and that’s a big difference, a seriously significant one.
“I asked what the estimated cost behind rebranding Sport and Recreation New Zealand as Sport New Zealand was. My question was `re-branding Sport and Recreation New Zealand’, and that is every aspect. I didn’t narrow it down to just one.
“This opens suspicion that someone is misleading Parliament, and the public. The other categories are rebrand costs too, and within the ambit of my question. He should have answered properly and openly.”
Peters said he would not let the matter rest.
“I want to know why the written answer came in with significant pieces of information and expenditure left out.”
Alf has had a quiet chat with Murray and given him some advice about his use of numbers.
The nub of the advice was to steer well clear of them.
It looks like Murray paid close attention, as you can see here.
4831 (2012). Hon Phil Goff to the Minister of Foreign Affairs (18 Jun 2012): How much will New Zealand contribute to the Pacific Island Forum budget this financial year and does the Government believe that the contribution achieves value for money?
Hon Murray McCully (Minister of Foreign Affairs) replied: I am unable to provide a response at this time and undertake to provide the member with a final response at a later date.
Alf would like to think his advice helped to shape those carefully chosen words.