The Painful Truth of It

Some day, you'll appreciate this opportunity to quit filling your head with nonsense.

Statistics are like a bikini.

bikini graph There’s a bar graph available that compares the various types of accidental deaths counted in the most recent decennial census.

Interestingly, accidental gun deaths rank far down the list of most common causes. If you want to make an impact against accidental deaths, then your time would be better spent going after poisons that are ingested with fatal results before going after guns.  Motor vehicle accidents are the number one killer.  But nobody is talking about banning automobiles, though they kill — Or is it their drivers who kill? — 33,608 Americans each year, which is far more than the 606 accidental gun deaths occurring over the same period.

Of course, I am naturally suspicious any time someone starts promoting an agenda by saying something like “Every year _____ people die as a result of ________,” because it’s obvious manipulation. It’s even worse when they resort to “Every year _____ children die as a result of ________.” In both instances, there are relevant questions that must be addressed before we can say whether there is cause for concern.

For example, when talking about the sheer number of “people” who have died, it is misleading because all people eventually die of something.  So the fact that a certain number of them die of a particular cause doesn’t mean anything, unless they are dying prematurely, which the statistic ignores.

Secondly, in the example involving “children,” it just gets downright morbid. Children aren’t supposed to die of anything. The fact that they are included in the statistical field alone is cause for concern, irrespective of how they got there, which is secondary.  The entire field could consist of only 100 children killed out of 100 million total children.  So telling you that any percentage of them died of a particular cause usually indicates a very small number of childhood deaths because most children don’t die.  When someone tells you that drunk drivers, artificial sweeteners or out-0f-control-kites are the leading cause of death for children between the ages of 5 and 16, you have to ask, “Would you be happier if those kids had drowned instead?” It’s a tragedy that they’re in your statistical sample at all, so quit trying to manipulate me, Dr. Kevorkian.

Statistics are like a bikini. What they reveal is interesting, but what they conceal is vital.


2017-06-13 update: See URL


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This entry was posted on December 18, 2012 by .
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