Posts Tagged ‘News Media’

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

It continues to amaze me how loosely most people deal with statistics, making up or inflating numbers to prove a point or make something seem more significant than it really is.

Exhibit A is an article on CNN today, about a really sad case where a boy shot himself with a gun that his parents had stored in a closet. Why it wasn’t locked up, and why it was loaded, I can’t say. But here’s the statistic in the article:

The CDC says three children per day, on average, died in accidental incidents in the United States from 2000 to 2005, the last year data are available.

The CDC has some really great data resources available, so I went to WISQARS and ran the report. Here’s what I selected, based on how the CNN article described the set:

  • Intent: Unintentional (that is, accidental) deaths
  • Mode: Firearm
  • Years: 2000 to 2005
  • Ages: Custom range from <1 to 17 (this should be what “children” means, yes?)
  • No age adjusting

The result returned was a total of 724 deaths for the six year period. Too many, yes, but three children per day? Hardly. More like one child every three days. The CNN number is inflated 9 times higher than the actual. That’s past lies and damned lies, that’s statistcal malpractice. (I sent a comment to CNN to see if they’ll correct it, but I don’t have high hopes.)

Long live Mark Twain

P.S. Here’s a great article from The Week entitled “When numbers deceive.” It looks at cancer rates and survivability and quizzes of doctors, and it’s some surprising stuff.

P.P.S. They actually corrected it, but the wording is horrendous:

The CDC says one child, on average, every three days died in accidental incidents in the United States from 2000 to 2005, the last year data are available.

And it turns out that I wasn’t the only one to catch it and write about it. The “Stormin Mormon” used this case to ponder again the limits of journalistic stupidity.

Worldview Journalism

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

I am not a fan of American evangelical media.  I think the movies, with few exceptions, are cheese; Christian comedy isn’t; and most magazines should turn in their presses to the local media police. Not that the secular versions of these are morally satisfying fare, but rather they don’t pretend to mediocrity — their quality is not judged secondarily to their worldview.

When it comes to journalism, I appreciate honesty and objectivity. I used to like the New York Times, but their super-liberal bias clouds their ability to effectively relate the facts, and they’ve lost the ability to be honest about what they believe and who they are. The Wall Street Journal doesn’t pretend, and while I see a great failure to answer many pressing social issues, and a total lack of journalistic compassion, at least the WSJ doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not.

I liked Newsweek, until the December 15, 2009, issue that declared “The Religious Case for Gay Marriage.”  I’ve heard the same arguments before, but this article, and the editorial column that preceded it, claimed something that had heretofore not been part of the discussion: that those who believe otherwise are irrational, worthless fundamentalists who might as well give up.  “A mature view of scriptural authority requires us, as we have in the past, to move beyond literalism. The Bible was written for a world so unlike our own, it’s impossible to apply its rules, at face value, to ours.”  All this in the guise of journalistic objectivity.  

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The Questions are Rigged

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

Whether conservative or liberal, it seems that most people in this world, including journalists, writers, and “researchers,” have a hard time constructing objective questions and answers.

Not so long ago there was the story of the John Ziegler, who started a website and is putting together a “documentary” called “How Obama Got Elected.”  The interviews are certainly fascinating material, but I’m not really sure how much the questions, and the offered choices for an answer, actually reveal.  Did people who know certain things about Obama vote based on that knowledge, or do they know the info because of their pre-existing choice of candidate or news source?  Is it causal or just collateral coincedence?

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