Polls, Damned Polls, and Statistics

Statistics have always been used to obscure the truth. There’s the famous quote by British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli, and popularized by Mark Twain: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Sadly, nothing has changed. In fact, it’s gotten worse.

The problem is that statistics isn’t a popular subject, and many people happily avoid taking any classes that cover the topic. (It was affectionately known as “Sadistics” when I was in college.) We’re easily led astray by official-sounding numbers, especially if the conclusion is one we already agree with. While we (thankfully) don’t need to worry about Chebychev’s Rules, Probability Distribution Functions, or Stem and Leaf Diagrams, we should know how statistics work, and how they can be used to fool us. There are numerous ways in which statistics can be misleading. I ran into one of them while reading the news this week.

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Knives and Guns, Oh My

In the wake of the recent spate of mass shootings, gun control is again being debated. I had just finished reading some opinion pieces (now called “news”) both for and against more restrictive laws, when I came across this article in Newsweek:

UK’s #Knifefree Chicken Boxes Called ‘Offensive’ and ‘Racist’ by Some

Wondering how a chicken lunch could be considered offensive and racist, I clicked on the article. I learned that eating chicken for lunch is considered a black stereotype, so a social program targeting chicken lunches is offending some people. (Really? Fried chicken is racist? I thought it was just delicious!)

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Read This: Cell 58

Cell 58Great adventures make great stories, the kind we love to hear about. There’s the suspense—will the hero live to overcome evil? There’s the thrill of God’s light and love overcoming darkness. We all love a good page-turner.

In this case, the circumstances are real and the story is true.

Disclaimer: I have not read this book—yet. However, the author, Dan Baumann, recently came and talked to our missions-oriented Sunday school class. If his book is half as good as his talk, you have to read it! I certainly plan to.

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Being Skeptical

The blurb on my news feed was alarming:

Hot tea nearly doubles your risk of esophageal cancer

When we think about tea, we usually associate it with health benefits. But a new study from the International Journal of Cancer, says drinking hot tea increases…

As a passionate tea drinker, my initial take would be one of concern, alarm even—which is just what the news site intended. Oh no, is my tea bad for me? Yet another supposedly healthy food causes cancer? Should I stop drinking it? So of course I click on the link to read the rest of the article—and to inadvertently view all the ads.

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Recommended: Raleigh Harmon Mysteries

the stones cry outHow would I describe the perfect novel? It would have to be a page-turner, one that would keep me up past my bedtime. I’d want a creative, twisty plot—nothing predictable, please. The characters should three-dimensional, with complex, imperfect personalities—I don’t have to like them all, but they should be people I can relate to. The book would have to be well-written (the curse of being an editor), the events significant. Finally, there should be enough romance to make me smile.

I guess you could call me a “highly selective” reader.

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Getting to the Truth of a Matter

shower wrongThe internet is chock full of “valuable” advice. It’s a good thing, too. How else would I know that for the past half-century, I’ve been showering all wrong? And apparently, many of the activities I enjoy are included in the list of atrocious faux pas that baby boomers are guilty of. (Not that this is surprising—after all, I am a baby boomer). If I didn’t have the internet, how would I know how to scramble eggs, how to vote, or how to decorate my home?

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