Thou Shalt Not Use Statistics? A Ten Commandments’ Tale

there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics

benjamin disraeli

statistics are often thrown around as if they are the truth. statistics, sadly, are actually a tool for lying and deceit. government agencies often use statistics to justify both policy and spending. for example, during the height of covid-19, a governmental agency may want to make as many deaths reported as being covid-19- related so that they can justify the funding and government restrictions. during the time that the government is removing covid-19 restrictions, it was important to keep the covid-19 death numbers to a minimum.

according to a news report, “santa clara county’s department of public health has redefined the way it counts covid-19 deaths in the county, which has brought the total death toll down by 22 percent. the recent change is part of the county’s effort to better understand the health impacts of covid, officials said on friday. initially, anyone who had covid at the time of their death was counted in the death toll, in accordance with state definitions.” nbc

the justification was as follows: “throughout the pandemic, we have focused on bringing the best information to the public as soon as we have it,” said dr. sarah rudman, assistant public health officer. “as we see more vaccinations and fewer cases and deaths, we have had the opportunity to more deeply analyze the deaths that came in during the height of the pandemic.” nbc

thus, cynically reading into dr. rudman’s statement, it can be argued that she is misrepresenting their intention. initially, they did not focus on getting the “best” information to the public. they created a vague all encompassing definition of covid-19 deaths which they knew was not accurate. it was so bad that they needed to make a “redefinition” to make accurate numbers.

other areas of government employ improper data collection. for example, if your local government wants to reduce crime, all they need to do is not report the crimes. for example, i had a property crime in santa monica. my parked car had been hit and had significant damage. i called the police department to report it. the police department’s representative discouraged me from making a report. the attitude was “why bother? it is going to go nowhere.” thus, the police department played a role in lowering the crime statistics.

data collection, when it comes to getting cities money for having homeless people, the city is out in full force. while the city of los angeles could care less about homeless people, they love revenue they receive from having them there. it is reported, “in recent years, as homelessness has grown, los angeles has done the count nearly every year. over three days, thousands of volunteers fan out to count the number of tents, RVs and cars housing people throughout the region” latimes thus, there numbers are only generated for money.

in sum, statistics can be an effective means of perpetrating lies. statistics can be manipulated with respect to the data gathering. as the examples show, there are ways to increase numbers by using an expanding definition and there are ways to decrease numbers by not recording events or redefining the data. thus, any serious decision based upon statistics should include an analysis of the validity of the sampling and the methodology used.

be well!!

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Published by biblelifestudies

I am a practicing lawyer and long term admirer of the bible

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