When people hear the Queen is coming to visit, they want everything to look nice.
So they clean and paint it all.
That way, when the Queen arrives, it’s all nice and clean and smells like fresh paint.
In fact, given that everywhere the Queen visits is cleaned and painted, that’s all she ever smells.
So the Queen thinks the whole world smells like fresh paint.
It’s a cliché, of course, but it’s a good illustration.
We live in our own perspective, it’s all we can do.
If the only thing we ever smell is fresh paint, then we believe that’s the only smell there is.
But what did the world smell like before the paint was applied?
Well, the Queen never smells that.
She doesn’t know about it, so for her it doesn’t exist.
The truth, of course, is whatever is underneath the fresh paint, but she never smells that.
All she can ever experience is what she’s exposed to: fresh paint.
We are exactly like that with data.
We assume that data is the truth because that’s all we ever see.
But how about if the data isn’t the truth?
According to the data, Britain should still be in the European Union and Hillary Clinton should be president of the US.
Neither of those things happened because the data wasn’t the truth.
But why wasn’t the data the truth?
Because the people who run the media did such a good job of telling everyone that their view was the only sensible view that people who felt differently shut up.
It became uncomfortable to express a different view.
So no-one admitted it, they avoided the question or said they hadn’t made their mind up.
Then, in the privacy of a polling booth, they voted the way they were always going to.
Underneath the fresh paint.
The media, meanwhile, carried on believing that the data was fact.
All they experienced was fresh paint so that must be all there was.
Exactly like the Queen.
She doesn’t know what’s under the paint, all she ever smells is fresh paint.
So that must be all there is.
We don’t know what’s under the data, all we ever experience is the data.
It must be true because that’s all there is.
All we experience is the data and we only ever talk to people like us who also only experience the data.
So we think it’s true, and everyone we know thinks it’s true.
And we laugh at any other view.
We ridicule anyone who questions it, so everyone is scared to question it.
And no debate is allowed that doesn’t accept that the data is the only possible truth.
Until we have a big surprise.
And we find out that people aren’t data.
As David Ogilvy said: "People don’t think how they feel, they don’t say what they think and they don’t do what they say."
Dave Trott is the author of Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three.