Quotes [ edit ] Quotations taken from the 31 st printing of the W. Norton edition; ISBN paperback The secret language of statistics, so appealing in a fact-minded culture, is employed to sensationalize, inflate, confuse, and oversimplify. Statistical methods and statistical terms are necessary in reporting the mass data of social and economic trends, business conditions, "opinion" polls, the census. But without writers who use the words with honesty and understanding and readers who know what they mean, the result can only be semantic nonsense.
Introduction A well-wrapped statistic is better than Hitler's "big lie"; it misleads, yet it cannot be pinned on you. Introduction Who are those who chucked the questionnaire into the nearest wastebasket?
Precise falsehoods exist for many reasons. Beware of the tricks.
Chapter 1: The Sample With the Built-in Bias Even if you can't find a source of demonstrable bias, allow yourself some degree of skepticism about the results as long as there is a possibility of bias somewhere. There always is. Chapter 1: The Sample With the Built-in Bias This is the little figure that is not there—on the assumption that you, the lay reader, wouldn't understand it. Or that, where there is an axe to grind, you would. Chapter 3: The Little Figures That Are Not There Referring to degree of significance It is all too reminiscent of an old definition of the lecture method of classroom instruction: a process by which the contents of the textbook of the instructor are transferred to the notebook of the student without passing through the heads of either party.
Chapter 5: The Gee-Whiz Graph If you can't prove what you want to prove, demonstrate something else and pretend they are the same thing. In the daze that follows the collision of statistics with the human mind, hardly anyone will notice the difference. Not chicanery much of the time, said he, but incompetence.
One example, what could be called mindless extrapolation , was cited by sociologist Joel Best in his book, Damned Lies and Statistics. Best was startled to find this statistic in a reputable journal in "Every year since , the number of children gunned down has doubled. Best did a simple calculation. Even if there were only one child "gunned down" in , by the number of doublings would have amounted to 35 trillion, truly an alarming statistic.
How can we defend ourselves against the statistical numbers game? Here are a few rules of thumb. Don't be too trusting. Always look at any gee-whiz statistic with skepticism. Ask who is the purveyor, and what are his or her or its motives?
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How were the numbers produced, and what do they really mean, or hide? If in doubt, try checking with one of the two internet lie-detector sites: PolitiFact. Or use a search engine like Google to check out the sources and methodologies, and possibly find other contrary evidence. It takes work, but there are no short-cuts in this mendacious age.
How to Lie with Statistics
The old saying "let the buyer beware" caveat emptor also applies to the daily onslaught of propaganda that may be masquerading as "information. The sclerosis starts there. Peter Corning, Ph. He taught for many years at Stanford University, and is the author of several books on biology and society. Extreme partisanship is a slippery slope. Is there a path forward? Our appalling social and health problems are symptoms, not the disease. Back Psychology Today.
Back Find a Therapist. Back Get Help. Back Magazine. Subscribe Issue Archive. Back Today. A Simple Key to True Belonging. Making Sense of Nutritional Psychiatry. Peter Corning Ph. Friend me on Faceook. Beware of the tricks. Submitted by Kelly Cash on November 28, - pm. So true! Numbers lie too! I wish it were. Submitted by Peter Corning Ph.
How Not to Lie With Statistics: Avoiding Common Mistakes in Quantitative Political Science
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