Stats, Polar Bears, and “Truth by Repetition”

When I did marketing for a company that created annuities for the recipients of large court damages, I was armed with alarming statistics I had gleaned from the annuity industry’s publications.  Half of the recipients of large lump sum settlements or damages from personal injury and medical negligence lawsuits had dissipated all of the funds (usually calculated to last a lifetime) within two years or less. More than 75% had blown through all the cash, often millions of dollars, within five years. These figures were accepted as fact everywhere,  and we used them profitably to persuade plaintiffs, lawyers and courts to approve annuity arrangements that would parcel out the funds over the years, keeping the money safe from needy relatives and spending sprees. Then, one day, I decided to track down the studies that were the sources of the statistics I was using.

There weren’t any. I discovered a circular trail, with various sources quoting each other. Continue reading