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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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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What Goes Without Saying…

I just read a book that has transformed the way I read the Bible. I think you should read it too.

As a white, North American woman, I have cultural biases—and most of the time I’m not even aware of them. I have a certain way of thinking about time—as a series of consecutive events. I live in a society that places a strong emphasis on individuality. We value efficiency, not procrastination, and leaders over followers. Other cultures view these (and other) things quite differently.

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A Future and a Hope

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

We all recognize Jeremiah 29:11. We use it to cheer those going through a difficult time. We offer it to new graduates as a sign that their future is bright. When our own circumstances seem bleak, we repeat it to ourselves. God wants me to prosper. This is just a temporary setback.

The problem is, we take this oh-so-encouraging verse out of context and apply it incorrectly. I don’t want to rain on your parade, but misapplying Scripture is never a good idea. When things don’t pan out the way we think they should, we blame God. I know people who have even abandoned their faith altogether because they had expectations that God failed to meet.

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Need an Opinion? Ask for God’s!

I was originally planning to be the only blogger on the planet who didn’t comment on the Caylee murder trial verdict. In case you’ve been in a coma for the last several years, you know by now that Casey Anthony was declared “not guilty” in the murder of her daughter Caylee. Since I have only skimmed a few headlines pertaining to the case, I’m not qualified to have an opinion about the outcome, although that hasn’t stopped anyone else.

While I have largely ignored the trial, it’s pretty much impossible to ignore the outpouring of opinion. My friends’ facebook pages, the headlines on every news feed on my homepage, the assorted blogs I follow—all are consumed with the topic. You’d think nothing else of importance happened anywhere else on the planet.

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