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HindustanTimes Sat,25 Oct 2014

The magic of statistics

Col Avnish Sharma (retd) , Hindustan Times   October 15, 2013
First Published: 10:21 IST(15/10/2013) | Last Updated: 10:31 IST(15/10/2013)

Murphy’s law states, “Tell a man there are 300 billion stars in the universe and he will believe you. Tell him a bench has wet paint on it and he will have to touch it to be sure.”

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Statistics have a credible acceptability. An intense debate was on TV recently after the newly anointed poll campaign chief of the main opposition party claimed a certain figure that our neighbour across the Himalayas spends on education.

The upwardly mobile speakers from political parties haggled to authenticate or rubbish the claims of the leader. Amid unrelenting participants, a rather well-read speaker fired a salvo, “Gentlemen, the statistics made public by our oriental neighbour will never have credence due to its closed-door policy. The figures spelt out by the British hold ground and the statement by our esteemed leader was based on these figures.” The debate ended. Such is the magic of statistics.

Blind adherence to statistical analysis though may not always hold good. If one recollects the famous battle of Longewala and the numerical and weaponry comparison of the two sides, the company of Punjab Battalion had no chance of surviving the armoured-led assault by the Pakitanis. The result, however, was for all to see.

My regiment was equipped with defective tanks and spares were not forthcoming. The general officer commanding, a follower of the old school was averse to a commanding officer making use of computers (PowerPoint presentation) while briefing him during his visit to the units.

Since the verbal statement of the figurative state of tanks along with defective components was practically impossible, the agony of my regiment went unprojected till Operation Parakram (the mobilisation of troops after the attack on Parliament) happened and I was ordered to organise a war game based on our projected area of operations keeping the ‘actuals’ in mind.

During the discussion on tank vs tank battle scenario, I depicted my regiment with just half the strength of tanks facing a full regiment strength of the enemy’s. The GOC, a fair man that he was, asked me to explain this faux pas before he decided on my professional future.

Seizing this opportunity, I flashed a PowerPoint presentation giving out the statistical data of my tanks and the fact that I had played the war game as per ‘actuals’. The magical impact of operational statistics got all my tanks roaring in 72 hours flat. I am told the old man, thereafter, became a computer buff and would insist that all his field commanders make use of PowerPoint presentations to highlight the statistical data of deficiencies.

The writer can be reached at avnishrms59@gmail.com

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