Cooking the book?

中国日报网 2014-03-07 11:33



Cooking the book?

Reader question:

Please explain this headline: Obama Administration ‘Cooking the Book’ to Achieve Record Deportation Numbers.

My comments:

Here the Obama Administration is accused of fudging figures, or manipulating statistics to flatter itself.

By cooking the book here, they make deportation numbers look larger than they really are. In other words, the US Government under Barack Obama probably did not deport as many people as they say they did.

There are many ways one can cook the book, of course, like there are many ways one can cook a meal. Indeed, the phrase “cooking the book” is inspired from cooking itself. Many vegetables and meats do not taste very good if you eat them raw. So people cook them first. In so doing, chefs boil, fry or steam them, adding salt, oil and spices. After this creative work, the vegetables and meats taste very different, usually much better than before.

Cooking the book? Likewise, only the book here refers to the accountant’s record book, a record of daily transactions, sales and income, money taking in and going out.

In cooking the book, people manipulate the numbers, dressing them up, to make the company look good. For example, a company may have suffered a net loss in the fourth quarter, but among the monthly figures, December’s numbers were slightly better than that of the same period a year earlier. So therefore, instead of stating upfront that net losses were recorded for the months of October-December (sending another chill to its share holders who are playing the stock market in the meantime), it emphasizes its December numbers, saying this growth year on year clearly shows the company is pulling out of its year-long doldrums, thus cheering its share holders up.

Back to our example. I suppose there are many ways to play with deportation figures. One way to inflate the figures, as I read somewhere earlier this year, is for the administration to count some people twice. You send 50 people south of the border to Mexico this week, for example. Right next week, 10 of those people return to New Mexico or Texas. Next week, you send them back to Mexico again. The week after, some of them cross the border to America again.

So on and so forth. The upshot is, by counting some people more than once, the overall number of deportations are inflated. The Obama Administration doesn’t mind inflated numbers here because they make Obama’s government look good, showing that it’s taking a tough stance on illegal immigration.

Anyways, that’s cooking the book, a phrase that implies dishonesty, to say the least.

Here are media examples, both old and recent, of people who cook the book:

1. Vitamin E users were recently frightened by news was that high doses of the nutrient may be dangerous — “High dose of vitamin E may increase death risk” was how USA Today put it.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University reported that people who took more than 400 International Units (IUs)of vitamin E per day had about a 5 percent greater risk of premature death than subjects who took lower daily doses of vitamin E.

The researchers concluded that “High dosage vitamin E supplements may increase mortality and should be avoided.”

While I can’t assure you that “high dose” vitamin E supplementation will definitely improve your health, I’m pretty confident that the Hopkins study shouldn’t scare you about the nutrient.

The researchers didn’t study any vitamin E-users first-hand; instead they simply reviewed data from 19 earlier vitamin E clinical trials, including 11 “high dose” trials. But 10 of the 11 “high-dose” trials didn’t make any statistically significant correlations between vitamin E use and premature death.

Apparently this glaring fact didn’t fit with the researchers’ seemingly pre-determined conclusion, so they “cooked the books,” statistically speaking. They combined the 11 high-dose studies into one larger, supposedly more statistically robust study.

But while this “study stew” produced the appearance of a slightly elevated risk of premature death among high-dose vitamin E users, the reported “increase” was exceedingly small — too small to be considered reliable, particularly given the crudeness of the statistical method used to obtain it.

In a sense, it’s like the researchers tried to count atoms with the naked eye — it simply can’t be done.

- Kyoto Controversy Continues,, December 17, 2004.

2. Did Jack Welch say someone at GE must have “cooked the books” when reporting GE Tax obligation as none, zip, nada, zero, zilch? Jack Welch tweeted the unemployment rate of 7.8 released yesterday was cooked.

General Electric use to be in the homes of everyone in the form of a transistor radio, washer, dryer, VCR or television all made in America. Today they are ranked #16 on Forbes Global 500 index with billions in sales and yet avoid most if not all their tax obligation. CFO Keith Sherin said that GE is proud of its own recovery. Earnings in 2010 were $3.3 billion, up from $1.5 billion at the end of 2009.

- Jack Welch 'cooked the books',, October 6, 2012.

3. REBEKAH Brooks denied today that she “cooked the books” to hide a £92,000 contract with a phone hacker when she was editor of the News of the World.

In a lengthy exchange under cross-examination at the Old Bailey, Brooks denied knowing about the deal with private investigator Glenn Mulcaire.

It was allegedly concealed in weekly payments to his company and signed off by then managing editor Stuart Kuttner, the hacking trial was told.

Prosecutor Andrew Edis QC said to Brooks: “What I am suggesting to you is, it is now perfectly clear the books were cooked to prevent anybody investigating or finding out what Mr Mulcaire was doing.”

Brooks said: “I did not cook any books.

“Somebody cooked them,” Mr Edis said: “It should have been £92,000 and not 52 payments.”

Brooks agreed the cumulative total “should have gone to me”, adding: “Because it was paid in relatively small weekly payments and the news desk obviously kept within their weekly spending limit, it was never brought to my attention.”

- Rebekah Brooks denies ‘cooking the books’ to hide phone hacking contract,, March 6, 2014.




About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.



Left out to dry?

Push the envelope

Loan shark rate?

Mean street, mean city?

Hat in the ring?


(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)


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