The US Government is a flagrant practitioner of Statistical Fallacio with unemployment stats. It refuses to count those who’ve grown so weary of their job search that they’ve given up looking, who by any sane definition would count as the most abjectly unemployed of all. Through deft and shameless number-crunching, fact-discarding, and human-erasing, the government claims that the unemployment rate is only half or even a third of the real unemployment rate—with the word “real,” like everything, being open to dispute.
Police departments both here and abroad are known to mangle crime statistics, either exaggerating them to receive more funding or downplaying them to demonstrate crime-fighting success. The multiple urban legends regarding crime include the idea that all serial killers are white, which even the FBI calls a myth. In fact, some stats suggest that blacks are actually overrepresented in serial killing relative to their quotient of the general population.
And though it tends to be leftists who contact me out of the blue to toss faulty stats in my face, it’s not as if fact-mangling is confined to any end of the political spectrum. Bill O’Reilly cherry-picked dates to falsely allege that George W. Bush lowered America’s poverty rate relative to Bill Clinton. Mike Huckabee’s pollsters were caught on film asking leading questions. And Mitt Romney’s campaign practiced statistical sleight-of-hand to claim that women lost 92% of the jobs that vanished during the Great Recession.
We currently live in a pop-culture-addled world that can’t even tell the difference between critical thinking and Critical Theory, which in my book are nearly polar opposites. Slimy marketing slugs in both the public and private sectors depend on the public’s ineptitude, and the public never seems to disappoint.
The problem with ideologues of all stripes is that they put the cart before the horse, starting with conclusions and then working backward. It’s best to start with facts and then inch toward a conclusion, always keeping in mind that the facts may be skewed or may change.
We’d have a healthier society if all American students were required to take a Logic & Statistics class every year from grades 1-12. In case such schooling escaped you, here’s a good basic primer in logical fallacies. And here’s one on understanding the misuse of statistics. And another. And here’s a 1954 classic called How to Lie With Statistics.
I was once sternly reprimanded for citing that list of logical fallacies because the website that hosts it defends the official TV-movie version of the Holocaust. But you can’t magically “discredit” something because you don’t like who’s saying it. For example, if Hitler said it was sunny and 72 degrees today and it was actually sunny and 72 degrees, this would not be untrue merely because Hitler was your weatherman. Yes, government and corporate statistics are often skewed to favor their sponsor, but a common logical error is to completely dismiss someone’s facts because you don’t like who’s spewing them. If you can’t wrap your cerebrum around why this is a mistake, I’d suggest you brush up on argumentum ad hominem and tu quoque. So yes, sure, by all means, knock yourself out, go bonkers, and ALWAYS consider the source when weighing statistics—that’s wise. But NEVER dismiss the facts based merely on the source—that’s dumb.
These are the only irrefutable statistics I’ve ever encountered:
100% of what politicians say consists of lies.
100% of those who demand you trust them unquestioningly should not be trusted.
100% of people believe only the statistics they want to believe.
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