I'm looking for a word that describes a misleading numerical indicator, one that does not give the entire picture or truth, or one that distracts from the issue.

For example, measurements of average salary are misleading because they can be skewed by few high-income earners.

The word "skew" is not appropriate, because it is specifically about a statistical distribution that changes its shape. I'm looking for something more general, that can be used in sentences like:

The X that is average salary


Average salary is (a) X

Maybe something like "red herring" but for numbers?

Less commonly used words or semi-archaic words are acceptable.

  • 1
    It's a deceptive value. – Hot Licks Dec 13 '20 at 13:54
  • The indicator isn't misleading. But the person who selected it may have chosen poorly, if not trying to mislead, or they may have chosen it on purpose. The misleading idea should be associated with the selection of the indicator, not the indicator itself. And no stats give a complete picture of the truth. They are all just skeletons from which we imagine what the creature looked like. – Phil Sweet Dec 13 '20 at 16:15
  • .... A statistic. As Phil says, it's misuse / mischoice that's the problem. Figures never lie. It's the people doing the surveys / counting / working up / presentation (and perhaps maintaining mechanical aids) who can get things wrong. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 13 '20 at 16:46
  • @HotLicks actually "deception" is not far from what I'm looking for. Is there an equivalent word, but one with a less "deliberate misleading" meaning? One that is "misleading out of ignorance"? – Gimelist Dec 13 '20 at 22:55
  • Have you checked a thesaurus? – Hot Licks Dec 13 '20 at 22:58

Since you've noted "red herring", I assume a pair of words could be acceptable:

Junk/misleading/undependable/distorted/misrepresentative + metric/parameter/indicator/stat[istic]. Combine as suits the context. For a formal journal article, "misrepresentative indicator"; for a campaign speech, "junk stat".


I suggest false signal defined by Wiktionary:

An event or emanation to which a sensing device gives an undesired positive response.

Other than that, bad indicator seems to me a pretty good choice.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.