Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

I cannot remember exactly how this book came across my radar but Damned Lies and Statistics is written by Joel Best to be a sort of intro level lesson on critical thinking regarding social statistics. Statistics, specifically those pertaining to social issues, are complex to create and integral to nearly every level of society. When these statistics are misunderstood or manipulated, things begin to unravel.

This was a quick read. The author, a university professor, is proficient in simplifying complex mathematical concepts and examples. He repeats throughout the book that the reader need not be a mathematician to understand his points. He goes through the various ways a study can lead to incorrect statistics and further how a correct statistic can be misunderstood or manipulated. His main purpose is to show the reader how to think critically when they hear any given statistic and what questions to ask to ensure what they are hearing is correct or at the very least plausable.

I think this was a beneficial read. As the author points out and as I’ve noticed with myself, mathematical concepts do not seem to sink in to most people. We hear a number–large, small, percent or ratio–and just take it at face value and hardly question it unless we hear an opposing number. Careful to avoid political bias, the author uses many real world examples, including the United States Census. During the census section of the book, I couldn’t help but smile because this was the first time reading through that I actually knew what he was talking about thanks to The West Wing. Being unfamiliar and uncomfortable with basic mathematical concepts is a principle now known as innumeracy (play of off the term “illiteracy”) which now makes me curious to read Innumeracy by John Allen Paulos


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