“There are lies, damn lies and statistics!”
–Benjamin Disraeli, Prime Minister of Great Britain 1874-1880
People often make claims and support their ideas using statistics. Statistics seem like such a safe and realiable way to do so. As we say in our reading last class, not all studies can be considered equal, and it turns out, neither can the statistics on which they base their claims. Today I would like to look at three different elements of statistics and the problems that surround their use.
- To start with let’s look some examples of statistical abuse, they are very heavily centred on the United States, but you will still understand them. Why do you think the statistics are often shown in a manner that distorts them?
- What, in your mind, do you think is a commonly misused statistic? This web page asked that question and received a couple very interesting responses. What do you think?
- Now let’s look at some of the common ways in which statistics are abused. Can you think of any examples where you have seen this take place?
- Lastly I would like you to turn to a major newspaper, like the Toronto Globe and Mail, the New York Times, the Ottawa Citizen, the Manchester Guardian. Or go to a News TV piece from any news source (CBC, NBC, CNN, etc.), watch it and listen to the statistics that are being used. Can you find any examples where statistics are being used in a questionable fashion? Comment on these below and think about why these statistics are shown this way.