Thursday, December 11, 2008

Why Statistics Can't Be Trusted

I am often skeptical of "statistics", because they are often skewed. It infuriates me, when someone uses skewed statistics to make a point. If they know that the statistics that they are using are misleading, and still use them to back up their argument, they are not speaking "in good faith".

Several months ago, in the democratic primary campaign, Obama said, "When women still make just 77 cents for every dollar men make - black and Latina women even less - that doesn't just hurt women, it hurts families who find themselves with less income, and have to work even harder just to get by". This infuriated me because this skewed statistic has been debunked for many years, Obama must know that this statistic is deceptive, but still used it in a campaign speech. As a result, I was motivated to write the article, " Women in the Workplace".

Also, during the democratic primary campaign, John Edwards quoted statistics of how many veterans are homeless. He tied the large number of homeless veterans, to a poor economy and a Veterans Administration that is unwilling to provide help to these homeless vets. This is something that I have first-hand knowledge about, for I have been homeless in three different sates.. Most all homeless people, end up on the street due to alcoholism, drug addiction and/or mental illness. In my case, it was all three. Most all of the homeless that I met at the shelters and in the soup kitchens, fell into these three categories, Their predicament was not due to economic downturn, unemployment, or lack of government services. There were homeless vets amongst them. Special government help was available for the Vets, but many chose to decline the drug, alcohol or mental health treatment and chose to remain on the streets.

Also, the mainstream media has been quoting statistics about the increase in the suicide rate among American soldiers in Iraq. They use this statistic to bolster their argument that soldiers are fundamentally opposed to US involvement in Iraq. However, when you examine the statistics, you find that the suicide rate for soldiers in Iraq is comparable to the suicide rate for the same age group at home. Also, the number one reason given for suicide in Iraq, is because of the break-up of personal relationships at home. Soldiers have been getting " dear John" letters during all previous wars, some react worse than others. The vast majority of these suicides are for reasons that are not related to the war.

If these statistics were examined in good faith, one might conclude that our young men and women who commit suicide in Iraq, are doing so as a result of a broken heart, not lack of support for their mission. If you follow this reasoning to its logical conclusion, you may conclude that love, not war, be brought to an end. Ridiculous? This is an example of how statistics, coupled with emotion and publicity are used to sway the political feelings of the public.

When someone recently quoted me statistics on charitable giving, it did not seem to be in line with what I have been observing. I didn't know why, but it didn't smell right. That is what motivated me to write my article, "Is Charitable Giving on the Rise? Of course I have no hard data, but I was able to conclude that it is very difficult to account for all charitable giving. My experiences have shown me that much true charity can go unreported and many legitimate charities, have questionable motives.

Someone quoted another statistic about how life expectancy in the US is no greater than in other countries, that have socialized medicine. He concluded that this shows that socialized medicine is as good or better than a privately run medical system. This conclusion did not "smell" right to me, but I did not know why. I quoted him statistics on automobile deaths, murders and drug overdoses. he correctly argued that those numbers were small in comparison the the total number of deaths. I quoted him figures on abortions and he rightly surmised that those were not included in the statistical studies. However, today I thought of four logical explanations as to why, a country with the most advanced and widely available health-care system in the world, has a shorter life expectancy than other nations.

This became clear to me because I am monotoning a stroke victim's diet. I believe that in this case, diet was a major contributing factor, to his two strokes. Not because he was deprived of nutrients in any way, but because a high calorie, fatty, cholesterol laden diet, leads to the build-up of plaque in the arteries after many years of this abundance. In other words, too much of a good thing (food), can lead to medical problems.

When people talk about hunger in America, observation, and common sense are not included in their thoughts or words. In my 53 years on planet Earth, I have never heard of one person dying of starvation in the U.S. If this were to happen, it certainly would make headline news. Yet, hunger is a popular rationalization for providing government subsidized school lunch programs and food stamp programs. I have been amazed that these programs actually advertise on radio and TV, in order to attract more recipients of free food. Hunger is one of our strongest natural instincts. Don't you think that hungry people are capable of seeking out food when they are hungry, without advertising, in this land of abundance.

I have also noticed, contrary to popular wisdom, that people in "poor" neighborhoods are often very well fed. As a matter of fact, overweight and obese people are abundant in "poor" neighborhoods. In America, the abundance of food, not the lack of food, may be what is contributing to shorter lifespans.

Another possible cause of shorter lifespans, is sedentary lifestyles made possible by the advent of modern machinery. Machines have replaced most human labor in the 20th century in modern societies. Lack of exercise, coupled with obesity, are major contributors to premature death.

Another possible cause of shortened lifespan in the US are carcinogens in modern synthetic materials, food additives, pesticides and pollution. In other words, it is possible that many of the miracles of science this modern era has brought us to improve our "quality of life", may have some unwanted side effects that actually are reducing our "quantity of life". Some have been detected, while other have yet to be discovered.

On the other hand, many developing and/or politically corrupt nations like Mexico, have an extremely high mortality rate due to parasites in the water supply and contamination in the food chain. This results from inadequate sewage systems serving large populations and lax regulation and corruption regarding food safety, not from the national medical system.

So there you have it. Off the top of my head I thought of four examples that could cause widespread shortened lifestyles that are unrelated to modern medical care. No-doubt modern medicine adds many years of quality life to billions of people worldwide. However, it is not the only factor in determining a populations average lifespan. Comparisons of differing medical-care systems, can not be determined by lifespan alone.

In conclusion, it seems obvious that statistics can be easily skewed to support or oppose any particular argument. I prefer to rely on my personal experience, reason and commonsense to support my opinions and draw my conclusions.

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