Saturday, April 07, 2007

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

That's the quote. No one is sure exactly who said it, but it has a nice ring.
I thought of it while reading Jill Fallon's blog pointing out the space between hype and reality that seems to grow wider with every news story. They say If it bleeds, it leads. We are way past the "man bites dog" stage of news reporting. All we need now is one deranged man doing anything strange to a dog and by the time it makes the news it has become an unsettling trend.

She points to a solid little piece by John Stossel who "calls the media part of the Fear Industrial Complex, because they profit from scaring us to death. Of course, they feature abducted children, shark attacks, nightmare scenarios about global warming because they are good stories and ratings soar. Reporters and writers were likely English majors, not math majors and they are clueless when it comes to statistics assessing risk. He calls them 'statistically illiterate.'"

Here are some real facts to contemplate...

Ordinary flu kills 36,000 people a year in the USA Bird flu has killed 0.

Swimming pools are more dangerous to children than guns. A child is 100 times more likely to die in a swimming pool than in a gun accident.

Cars are the most dangerous things around. About 36,500 were killed in car accidents last year, about 100/day. (Casualties of the four-year war in Iraq are still under four thousand.)

And from a link in the previous post...

The Zimmer Facts:

►In 2000, there were 600 million people aged 60 and over; there will be 1.2 billion by 2025 and 2 billion by 2050.

►Today, about two thirds of all older people are living in the developing world; by 2025, it will be 75%.

In the developed world, the very old (age 80+) is the fastest growing population group. A few weeks ago I blogged about part of the reason for this trend.

►Women outlive men in virtually all societies; consequently in very old age, the ratio of women/men is 2:1

Pretty boring, huh?
Sorry 'bout that.
It might have been more interesting, but lots of stats provoke arguments...

I was afraid to go into the stats about undocumented aliens and what might happen to the American economy if several millions of workers actually vanished as many patriotic, well-meaning people advocate.

Or how the war on drugs is a wholesale waste of time and resources, getting nowhere.

Or how people with Downs syndrome are vanishing from the population thanks to amniocentesis followed by abortions.

You get the idea.

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