How we present data often can affect the audience’s conclusions about the data. In a recent article from Travel Weekly on the Department of Transportation’s on-time stats for airline arrivals, the argument is made that the airline industry pads its own statistics in order reap cost benefits. Is the reporting difference an ethical breach of confidence between the consumer and the industry?

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"Gartner defines data literacy as the ability to read, write and communicate data in context, including an understanding of data sources and constructs, analytical methods and techniques applied — and the ability to describe the use case, application and resulting value."

First we need to ask the fundamental question, "Did the company lie or misrepresent the data, or did they simply obfuscate it?" If it's the former, then yes, the reporting is an ethical breach between the consumer and the industry. However, if it's the latter, the answer is less clear.

Where does the responsibility around data literacy fall? Is it the industry's responsibility to disseminate information in such a way that it can't be misinterpreted, or is it the consumer's responsibility to have a sufficient level of data literacy to comprehend and digest the information? This is seemingly an unanswerable question. Yes, it is the industry's responsibility to not mislead the consumer, and yes, it is the consumer's responsibility to employ a critical lens when consuming data. However, while there is no mechanism to force consumers to think critically, there is one by which to force the industry to comply with a set of pre-defined criteria, stringent governmental regulations. Through governmental regulations, and their associated penalties, we, theoretically, have an impartial third-party protecting us from the malfeasance of bad actors in industry.

That said, in the example provided about airlines padding on-time statistics, an interesting point is made regarding the cost benefits associated with misleading consumers and whether they would pass said benefits along to consumers. Ultimately does it matter? Are you content with being lied to if it saves you a couple bucks? At the end of the day, in a capitalistic society, data literacy is important, nay critical, but skepticism is king. Industry is focused on delivering shareholder value, not the consumer.

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