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Ask Marilyn: Statistics Versus Truth
Jeff Marchant of Port Jervis, New York, writes:
Marilyn: I have no question for you here, just an internal discussion to get off my chest.
When group A and group B are divided based on sex, religion, race, sexual orientation, geographic origin, or otherwise, it seems someone can always find a disparity about which to complain. Perhaps group A makes more money per position in a certain field or holds more high-profile occupations.
For example, someone might say, "Group A has twice as many teachers as group B. Therefore, the teaching profession is unfair to group B." This makes me want to see the data upon which that conclusion is based. That data seems to never be offered during such discussions. Hey, maybe group A is twice as big as group B, and/or group A has twice as many teacher applicants as group B, and/or group B has only history teacher applicants, greatly limiting the number of jobs available for them, and/or a myriad of other things. For me, it has gotten to the point that I trust nobody's statistical analysis, except my own. But I still need the raw data!
I wish that people trying to back their public opinions with statistics would educate themselves a little. If they did, I am sure the honest ones would just stop using statistics. They are very effective at being used to mislead the public, and only rarely do they add any truly meaningful substance to an argument, unless the speaker is educated in the field.
Good luck with that wish! The problem is that offenders—often unknowingly—use statistics to persuade, not to enlighten. They routinely victimize themselves before victimizing others.