Damned Lies and Statistics: Untangling Numbers from the Media, Politicians, and Activists by Joel BestDoes the number of children gunned down double each year? Does anorexia kill 150,000 young women annually? Do white males account for only a sixth of new workers? Startling statistics shape our thinking about social issues. But all too often, these numbers are wrong. This book is a lively guide to spotting bad statistics and learning to think critically about these influential numbers. Damned Lies and Statistics is essential reading for everyone who reads or listens to the news, for students, and for anyone who relies on statistical information to understand social problems.
Joel Best bases his discussion on a wide assortment of intriguing contemporary issues that have garnered much recent media attention, including abortion, cyberporn, homelessness, the Million Man March, teen suicide, the U.S. census, and much more. Using examples from the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other major newspapers and television programs, he unravels many fascinating examples of the use, misuse, and abuse of statistical information.
In this book Best shows us exactly how and why bad statistics emerge, spread, and come to shape policy debates. He recommends specific ways to detect bad statistics, and shows how to think more critically about stat wars, or disputes over social statistics among various experts. Understanding this book does not require sophisticated mathematical knowledge; Best discusses the most basic and most easily understood forms of statistics, such as percentages, averages, and rates.
This accessible book provides an alternative to either naively accepting the statistics we hear or cynically assuming that all numbers are meaningless. It shows how anyone can become a more intelligent, critical, and empowered consumer of the statistics that inundate both the social sciences and our media-saturated lives.
Review of Damned Lies and Statistics: Untangling Numbers from the Media, Politicians, and Activists
Lies was first published in and updated in Most of these are equally applicable to statistics in medicine and public health, finance, and many other fields. This is not a deep statistics book. It deals mostly with averages, rates, medians and other commonly quoted statistics. Best is also the author of Threatened Children: Rhetoric and Concern about Child-Victims University of Chicago Press, and a number of other books and articles about this topic. In particular one of the more remarkable claims from this period, still alive today on the Internet, was the claim that one million children went missing each year in the United States, often implied to be horrific stranger abductions and murders by serial killers and even Satanic cultists.
Numbers exercise great power over the human imagination. In our society, truth needs affirming by statistics. Anyone who insists that child poverty or alien abduction is a problem will be expected to offer numbers to validate the claim. An allegation that lacks quantitative substantiation is usually rejected as that — an allegation. In contrast, claims backed up by numbers are likely to be treated as facts.
About the Book
Book: Mass Media. Topics: Chapter , Critical , Essay. Joel Best. Joel Best is a sociologist and. That is.
Joel Best identifies what is essential about numbers or statistics [Editor of StatLit. Every statistic is socially constructed in the most operational sense of that term. The social construction of statistics does not imply malevolence, negligence or even opportunism. The social construction of statistics goes beyond chance, bias and confounding. Seeing that all statistics are socially constructed is essential to being statistically literate. Professor Best is concerned about the future of statistical literacy in higher education.