Damned Lies and Statistics: Untangling Numbers from the Media, Politicians, and Activists

Damned Lies and Statistics: Untangling Numbers from the Media, Politicians, and Activists

Damned Lies and Statistics: Untangling Numbers from the Media, Politicians, and Activists

Damned Lies and Statistics: Untangling Numbers from the Media, Politicians, and Activists

Synopsis

Here, by popular demand, is the updated edition to Joel Best's classic guide to understanding how numbers can confuse us. In his new afterword, Best uses examples from recent policy debates to reflect on the challenges to improving statistical literacy. Since its publication ten years ago, Damned Lies and Statistics has emerged as the go-to handbook for spotting bad statistics and learning to think critically about these influential numbers.

Excerpt

The dissertation prospectus began by quoting a statistic—a “grabber” meant to capture the reader’s attention. (A dissertation prospectus is a lengthy proposal for a research project leading to a Ph.D. degree—the ultimate credential for a would-be scholar.) The Graduate Student who wrote this prospectus* undoubtedly wanted to seem scholarly to the professors who would read it; they would be supervising the proposed research. And what could be more scholarly than a nice, authoritative statistic, quoted from a professional journal in the Student’s field?

So the prospectus began with this (carefully footnoted) quotation: “Every year since 1950, the number of American children

* For reasons that will become obvious, I have decided not to name the Graduate Student, the Author, or the Journal Editor. They made mistakes, but the mistakes they made were, as this book will show, all too common.

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