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Damned Lies and Statistics: Untangling Numbers from the Media, Politicians, and Activists: Untangling Numbers from the Media, Politicians and Activists [Kindle Edition]

Joel Best
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Does the number of children gunned down double each year? Does anorexia kill 150,000 young women annually? Do white males account for only a sixth of new workers? Startling statistics shape our thinking about social issues. But all too often, these numbers are wrong. This book is a lively guide to spotting bad statistics and learning to think critically about these influential numbers. Damned Lies and Statistics is essential reading for everyone who reads or listens to the news, for students, and for anyone who relies on statistical information to understand social problems.

Joel Best bases his discussion on a wide assortment of intriguing contemporary issues that have garnered much recent media attention, including abortion, cyberporn, homelessness, the Million Man March, teen suicide, the U.S. census, and much more. Using examples from the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other major newspapers and television programs, he unravels many fascinating examples of the use, misuse, and abuse of statistical information.

In this book Best shows us exactly how and why bad statistics emerge, spread, and come to shape policy debates. He recommends specific ways to detect bad statistics, and shows how to think more critically about "stat wars," or disputes over social statistics among various experts. Understanding this book does not require sophisticated mathematical knowledge; Best discusses the most basic and most easily understood forms of statistics, such as percentages, averages, and rates.

This accessible book provides an alternative to either naively accepting the statistics we hear or cynically assuming that all numbers are meaningless. It shows how anyone can become a more intelligent, critical, and empowered consumer of the statistics that inundate both the social sciences and our media-saturated lives.

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"A real page-turner. Best is the John Grisham of sociology!" - James Holstein, author of The New Language of Qualitative Method "Best continues to invite us to participate in his absolutely fascinating and sobering quest into the fantastic differences between the world as it is and the world as it is portrayed in the statistics the media use....This book is simply a must." - Nachman Ben-Yehuda, author of The Madada Myth "Best is our leading authority on social problems today. His detective work in exposing the spurious use of statistics is essential to constructive social science. No one who speaks for the public welfare can ignore his powerful work." - Jonathan B.Imber, Editor in Chief, Society "Joel Best is at it again. In Damned Lies and Statistics, he shows how statistics are manipulated, mismanaged, misrepresented, and massaged by officials and other powerful groups to promote their agendas. He is a master at examining taken-for-granted 'facts' and debunking them through careful sociological scrutiny." - Patricia Adler, author of Peer Power"

About the Author

Joel Best is Professor and Chair of Sociology and Criminal Justice at the University of Delaware and author of Random Violence (California, 1999), among other books.

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Understanding statistics for good decisions 10 Aug. 2001
This is a book about reading and understanding statistics. It is not a book on research methods. As a book that helps to analyze and think critically about statistics, however, it is a book on methodology: the critical comparison of method issues.

Best's point is a central issue in modern industrial democracy. If we are going to make effective policy choices as citizens and voters, we must understand the issues on which we make decisions. The same holds true for the decisions we make in business life and in research. Many of the choices we make are based on statistical evidence. To make informed choices, therefore, we must be able to think about statistics.

A quick summary of the issues and topics in this book offers a good overview of clear thinking on statistical issues. Chapter 1, "the importance of social statistics," explains where statistics come from, how we use them, and why they are important. Chapter 2, "soft facts," discusses sources of bad statistics. Guessing, poor definitions, poor measures, and bad samples are the primary sources of based statistics. Good statistics require good data; clear, reasonable definitions; clear, reasonable measures; and appropriate samples.

Chapter 3 catalogues "mutant statistics," the methods for mangling numbers. Most of these arise from violating the four requirements of good statistics, but a new problem arises here. Where is relatively easy to spot bad statistics, mutant statistics require a second level of understanding. As statistics mutate, they take on a history, and it becomes necessary to unravel the history to understand just how - and why - they are mutant. Transformation, confusion, and compound errors create chains of based statistics that become difficult to trace and categorize.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Awe-struck by big numbers 7 Aug. 2011
The indelicate title of this book is taken from the well-known aphorism "There are lies, damned lies, and statistics" attributed to either Mark Twain or Benjamin Disraeli. It nearly caused me to not read it, unjustly, because the language between the covers is perfectly gentlemanly.

Most people, Best tells us, are innumerate. This means that they don't readily spot implausible numbers, and all big numbers are more or less the same to them, whether a million or a billion. Not only the people who hear statistics are often innumerate, but also the people who report them, and not infrequently even the people who generate them.

Statistics can be wildly off course for many reasons. They may originate in a guess. But even when they originate in research, there are many factors that can influence their accuracy. The researcher may have interviewed people using leading questions. The subject of the research may be poorly defined. The method of measuring it may be flawed. The sample on which the research is based may not be representative. Or perhaps a comparison was made between two entities that aren't comparable. Numbers may have been mangled by someone who quoted them, such as a reporter. Or the condition described mutates into something else during the retelling. The finesses of complex statistics may be overlooked. Basing new statistics on older ones may result in a chain of bad statistics. And, unavoidably, they are influenced by the interests of the party who compiles them.

The author does not mention the statistics used in modern medical mega-trials, but everything he says about statistics in general applies to those as well.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book for social statistics 23 Jun. 2009
This is an excellent book describing the social side of statistics - a real eye-opener making us all remember that statistics are not perhaps as 'concrete' as we first thought. Although statistics may be calculated, in some sense precisely and numerically, this book reminds us that however precise the numbers seem to be, they are based on people's definitions and driven by their motivations, and we should bear this in mind when interpreting statistics.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good discussion but not entirely objective 21 Mar. 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book absolutely raises an interesting discussion, in regard to how much we can trust statistics.

In the discussion different relevant issues is raised in regard to validity and reliability of the data.

It is helpful that it also discuss potential conflicts of interests, and the necessity of comparing an apple with an apple.

However to believe that this book is entirely objective is an utopi, but then which human can be entirely objective?
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