Book Report on “Damned Lies and Statistics: Untangling Numbers from the Media, Politicians, and Activists” by Joel Best

670 Words Jun 3rd, 2013 3 Pages
This report is based upon the book “Damned Lies and Statistics: Untangling Numbers from the Media, Politicians, and Activists”, written by Joel Best and published by University of California Press in 2001. Joel Best, a professor of sociology and criminal justice at the University of Delaware, has written a highly readable treatise on statistics, and how we can become better consumers of the statistical information that permeates the environment in which we live. Joel Best is a sociologist and, as a result, this is not a book about the mathematics of statistics, but about its sociology. That is, a book about the ways in which bad statistics are generated and spread through society. The title of the book comes from Mark Twain’s famous …show more content…
When not produced by activists, statistics are often a product of government, which may be motivated in the opposite direction of the activists, to play down a problem.
A quick summary of the issues and topics in this book offers a good overview of clear thinking on statistical issues. Chapter 1, “The Importance of Social Statistics”, explains where statistics come from, how we use them, and why they are important. Chapter 2, “Soft Facts”, discusses sources of bad statistics. Guessing, poor definitions, poor measures, and bad samples are the primary sources of bad statistics. Good statistics require good data; clear, reasonable definitions; clear, reasonable measures; and appropriate samples. Chapter 3, “Mutant Statistics”, describes the methods for mangling numbers. Most of these arise from violating the four requirements of good statistics, but a new problem arises here. While it is relatively easy to spot bad statistics, mutant statistics require a second level of understanding. As statistics mutate, they take on a history, and it becomes necessary to unravel the history to understand just how and why they are mutant. Transformation, confusion, and compound errors create chains of bad statistics that become difficult to trace and categorize. Chapter 4, “Apples and Oranges”, discusses the dangers of inappropriate comparison. Dangers arise when comparisons over time involve

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