ISBN is

978-0-520-21978-6 / 9780520219786

Damned Lies and Statistics: Untangling Numbers from the Media, Politicians, and Activists

by

Publisher:University of California Press

Edition:Hardcover

Language:English

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About the book:

When it comes to thinking about statistics, there are four kinds of people: awestruck, naive, cynical, and critical. According to sociologist Joel Best, the vast majority of people are naive (yes, you too probably suffer from a mild case of innumeracy), and the result is mutant statistics, guesswork, and poor policy decisions. "Bad statistics live on," writes Best in this highly accessible book, "they take on lives of their own." Take this one: a psychologist's estimate that perhaps 6 percent of priests were at some point sexually attracted to young people was transformed through a chain of errors into the "fact" that 6 percent of priests were pedophiles. Then there was the one about eating disorders. An original estimate that 150,000 women were anorexic, made by concerned activists, mutated into 150,000 women dying from the disorder annually (the truth: about 70 women a year). But these two mutant statistics have been published and passed along as facts for years, enduring long after the truth has been pointed out.

In an effort to turn people into critical thinkers, Best presents three questions to ask about all statistics and the four basic sources of bad ones. He shows how good statistics go bad; why comparing statistics from different time periods, groups, etc. is akin to mixing apples and oranges; and why surveys do little to clarify people's feelings about complex social issues. Random samples, it turns out, are rarely random enough. He also explains what all the hoopla is over how the poverty line is measured and the census is counted. What is the "dark figure"? How many men were really at the Million Man March? How is it possible for the average income per person to rise at the same time the average hourly wage is falling? And how do you discern the truth behind stat wars? Learn it all here before you rush to judgment over the next little nugget of statistics-based truth you read. --Lesley Reed

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