I was watching the TV news recently when there was a report on cocaine smuggling in Australia.
My ears pricked up as this is a topic of which I have some knowledge: cocaine smuggling was a thriving industry in the Bahamas when I lived there. Personally, I didn't dabble, but the place was knee-deep in it, which made it an interesting place for a young man.
Towards the end of the news report, the presenter announced that every year six million tonnes of cocaine was imported into Australia. That seemed a bit high.
"Really, six million tonnes? That must be wrong," I said to the friends I was watching with.
"Sounds about right," said my mates in agreement. "They're really into it over there. Australia has the highest per capita use of cocaine in the world, you know."
Not having friends renowned for their accuracy, I decided to check.
There are 25 million Australians, which meant that at the rate of six million tonnes per annum, my calculator revealed that the average annual consumption of cocaine would be around 240kg per person.
This seemed absurd unless there was an undiscovered colony of clones of Keith Richards in his heyday living in the Brisbane suburbs, in which case it was maybe an underestimate.
Further sleuthing revealed that, according to the New South Wales Crime Commission, the Australian street price of cocaine is around $200,000 per kilo. This would mean that every man, woman and child in Australia was spending $1 million on cocaine every week.
I know Aussies get paid more than we do, but even so, I think they'd struggle to find that sort of money down the back of the sofa just to help their weekends zip along.
Fact is stranger than fiction. But not that much stranger.
I then had a look at the official figures, which revealed that the Australian Government (again, not the most reliable of sources) estimated the consumption of cocaine in Australia to be 6 tonnes per annum. Which meant that the figure given by the news programme wasn't just a bit wrong, it was wrong by a million times.
Obviously, it would be wrong to name my friends here but I'm pretty sure that if I did, both Jon and Andrew would be rather embarrassed by their unthinking acceptance of such an absurdity.
They have both held senior jobs in business, yet they calmly accepted the fact that the average Aussie takes enough cocaine to wipe out a small town every week.
Those who know me are aware that my hearing isn't great, so I checked online to make sure I hadn't misheard it. I found others who were similarly bamboozled.
It seems to me that there are two issues here: firstly, the fact that this over-blown inaccuracy managed to worm its way through to the final broadcast.
We all make mistakes, and maybe this was not the most consequential error to make, but error-laden statistic has the potential to travel a long way rapidly.
Secondly, how did we, the audience, get so dumb that we unthinkingly accept figures that are more fanciful than mad Uncle Pete's Covid facts? Why did people think that the vaccine contained microchips implanted by a nerdy computer programmer? Why do millions of Americans believe that there is a group of rich people trafficking children to a pizza parlour in Washington DC so they can suck out their blood and thus live forever? How did this idiocy become so widespread that Americans are electing public officials because, not despite, of them believing this?
When we combine both gullibility and inaccuracy we end up with some people treating anything they hear on the news with open cynicism yet steadfastly defending to the death any drivel that their auntie's cousin heard.
For example, someone told me down the pub yesterday that the average Australian snorts 240kg of cocaine a year. Where on earth are they getting this rubbish?