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20191208 – How to lie with Statistics

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this small book is to demonstrate how by using various presentation methods and statistical tools, which are technically correct, one can nevertheless create false believes in the mind of user.

DETAILS:

Introduction

Author provides a brief narrative of his encounters with people being misled by either misuse of statistical tools or by intentional use of such tools for this purpose and then moves to specific examples.

  1. The Sample with the Built-in Bias

Here author looks at income statistics for “Average Yale man, class 24” and demonstrates how misleading is this statement because it contains a bunch of imbedded biases. He makes an important point: “To be worth much, a report based on sampling must use a representative sample, which is one from which every source of bias has been removed.”

After that author discusses another issue with selection of representative sample: “The test of the random sample is this: Does every name or thing in the whole group have an equal chance to be in the sample? The purely random sample is the only kind that can be examined with entire confidence by means of statistical theory, but there is one thing wrong with it. It is so difficult and expensive to obtain for many uses that sheer cost eliminates it. A more economical substitute, which is almost universally used in such fields as opinion polling and market research, is called stratified random sampling.
 Finally author demonstrates how difficult it is to meet these requirements.

  1. The Well-Chosen Average

The next point author makes is use of averages without clarifying what they mean. He provides a very nice graphic presentation for this issue:

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  1. How to Talk Back to a Statistic

The final chapter is about overcoming manipulation with statistics and presentations by asking a few very reasonable questions:

  • Who says so?
  • How does he know?
  • Did somebody change the subject?
  • Does it make sense?

MY TAKE ON IT:

This is a great collection of manipulation tools from some 50 years ago. It is funny that despite huge progress in information processing these methods did not change that much. Practically all these technics could be found now in books, news, and on Internet. Sometimes it requires some effort to recognize such manipulation, but usually it is very primitive and obvious to any even slightly educated person. Unfortunately after 12 years of high school and often even after additional 4 years of college the general level of mass education could be estimated as much less than slightly, which created the basis for mass manipulation of people. Consequently lots of politicians and bureaucrats make a great living out of this manipulation. I think that American society is pretty close to saturation with this lies because the net result is deterioration of quality of live, which at some point could create some serious push for a change, including massive improvement in education that would prevent manipulation or at least make it much more difficult.


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