Re: bigwigs had spent the last year working on ... "numbers totally unrelated to reality"
"Next person to need that number then references you. In a couple of years, all the caveats are lost, and your number has become the definitive reference. Noone questions it any more. "
My dad was a mathematician. He used to tell me the story of when he worked for Avro, designing (parts of) aircraft. Must have been 1960s or so. Now the wings of a plane are filled with ribs, which give them the strength. But when he asked how they were specified, dimensions, separation, etc., he was referred to the previous model of plane, just take it's values and adjust a bit for the different weight. He did though have the formulae for calculating all this based on wing loading, etc., but nobody actually used them, they just took the previous plane's values, and fiddled a bit, and had been doing this for years!
So, my dad being a perfectionist, decided to do it the hard way and worked everything out from scratch. As this needed to be done individually for each rib it took quite a while, even with the help of the nascent computer department. (I think this was where he learned PL/1, his only ever experience coding computers. It was still a "submit a job, wait a few days for the results" mind.) In the end, though, he came up with a wing design that took up far less material, and was thus lighter and more efficient, and saved the company much money! He was encouraged to write it all up as a thesis for a degree, but got it turned down as it was "too industry specific." It should still be sat on a bookshelf at mum's., I really should go borrow it sometime..