Numbers don’t lie….or so we are told. It can pay to be skeptical when you are given statistics and data. Ones to watch include:
- The everything’s-going-up statistic. It is typically found in reports showing more people than ever are employed, are on welfare, etc. That’s right because there are more people than ever. More useful: The actual employment rate or the portion of the population receiving welfare.
- The everything-is average statistic. Example: Someone argues that women can’t be combat soldiers because the average woman can’t lift as much weight as the average man. But many women can lift more weight than many men.
- The best-fit statistic. Here the best numbers to support a case are used. Example: This year’s sales are compared with those of three years ago to show a 25 percent increase. They aren’t compared to higher sales two years ago, which would show a 10 percent drop.
How to get it right: Ask to see all of the numbers and make your own calculations.
Victor Cohn, Iowa State University Press, Ames, IA