Sunday, November 14, 2010

The right way to deal with statistics

Bradley Wright, pg 218-9 of Christians are Hate-filled Hypocrites...and other lies you've been told:

For reasons I don't fully understand, statistics hold a strange power over people. Someone who is otherwise a clear thinker will readily accept something not true when it is presented as a statistic. (This is especially true for statistics presented in written form.) Statistics somehow can bypass the critical-thinking part of hte brain and go straight ot the "oh, that must be right" part.

Guess what? You don't have to believe all statsitics! The Bible commands us to love others unconditionally, but this applies to people, not statistics. With statistics, we should be everything we shouldn't be with people - cranky, sceptical, and critical. With statistics, acceptance should be earned, not freely given.

I routinely irritate friends and family by not believing the statistics that they tell me if the statistics don't sound right. When I disagree, they sometimes respond by repeating the statistic, in case I somehow missed that it's a statistic (and therefore to be accepted at face value). I still choose not to believe it, and their reaction is often one of disbelief, as if I'm breaking some unwritten rule.

His rules for his 'deputy-sociologists' in dealing with a statistic (pg 221):
Question whether it's accurate
Question the motives of the person writing
Disagree with the conclusions
Judge the statistic in light of your own experiences
Not believe it for any reason, including just being in a cranky mood.
I note that this has been my way of working with statistics for quite some time, so it's nice to know I'm in good company!

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