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Damned Lies and Statistics: Untangling Numbers from the Media, Politicians and Activists Hardcover – 16 May 2001

4.1 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 202 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; First Edition edition (16 May 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520219783
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520219786
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 14.6 x 2.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 860,387 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

Review

"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.


Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
Interesting explanation of the background to social statistics and the bias that can result from activist's interests. Easy to read book that requires no more than a basic maths ability.
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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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