Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Statistical Abuse

I just can't handle the misuse of statistics that I see constantly in the media. I know it has always been thus, as one can see by the age of some of the plethora of quotes available on the subject. However, it seems like it is getting even worse of late. I'm not even talking about bending statistics in political debate or somesuch, but in even the most innocuous of things. This article states that women apparently have better relationships with their clothes than with their men.
The study also suggested that clothes often wear better than relationships.
The average woman between 18 and 54 years of age has hung on to her favorite article of clothing for 12 and a half years, a year longer than she's held on to her longest relationship.
Let's talk about a few of the flaws underlying any conclusions that can be drawn from this statement.
1) A girl of 26 could conceivably still have clothes she bought when she was 16, since most women are done growing by then, but there is virtually no possibility she could have been in a relationship since then. They might as well have concluded that 17 year olds like their bed better than their car, since they have quite likely had the bed longer. Idiotic.
2) You can own clothes simultaneously, so you can accrue years with a favorite article of clothing while it is not actually your favorite. Example: A woman buys her favorite skirt at 20 and keeps it until age 32 when she throws it out. When she throws it away, her new favorite item is a shirt she bought when she was 23, meaning her new favorite item has been with her 9 years. Outside of Colorado City, a woman who divorces her husband will be restarting at zero, which really weighs down the averages.
There are other problems here, but I grow weary of this example. Let's move on to the cover article a couple of weeks ago in Parade magazine, entitled, "Is America still No. 1?"
We spend more money per person on health care a year ($5,700) than any country, and a greater percentage of our gross domestic product (more than 15%) goes to health care. But are we getting our money’s worth? Forty-three countries have more doctors per capita, including France, Switzerland, Mongolia and Lebanon.
I hope that a reasonable person is immediately suspicious of any conclusions to be drawn from that statistic, since common sense should instantly ring alarm bells about any claim that implies Mongolia is ahead of us medically. Is having more doctors per person better? Perhaps we don't need as many doctors per person because our doctors are better trained and more efficient. Likewise, most Americans own a car, or live near public transportation, so it's not like we need to have one doctor within walking distance of every group of 100 people. At least that statistic used a per-capita comparison.
Similarly, the U. S. has a greater rate of incarceration (737 per 100,000 people—or 2.2. million) than any other nation, and we perform the fourth-highest number of executions
So.....we're the third-largest nation in the world and we perform the fourth-highest number of executions? Hmmm. What I really hate is that that statistic is thrown out in the same sentence as the per-capita info on incarceration rates, so it's difficult to see how the "4th highest" number wasn't intentionally used to make things look bad. Hard to plead ignorant there.

Those probably aren't even the worst examples of what we regularly read or see on TV, they are just a couple I happened to have handy.


Shari said...

Preach it brother! I'm so sick of the way stats are abused. They should make it a crime. Then 90% of the media articles would prove 100% inaccurate statistically.

Holly said...

you are hilarious! you just make me laugh... tell Mel I said HELLO!!

Weaver said...

Even a room full of monkeys could make up more accurate statistics than the media.

Ok - I just had to add the omitted monkeys from Dan's rant.