Monday, 10 January 2011
Damned Lies and Statistics - Joel Best
Untangling Numbers from the Media, Politicians and Activists
Hbk, 199 pp, £14.95,
University of California Press, 2001
Statistics are constructed not discovered. It is people that create statistics, consequently statistics are coloured by the worldview of the constructor. There is no such thing as a neutral statistic. This book provides ample evidence that statistics are the products of social activity. Joel Best, a professor of sociology and criminal justice, has produced a readable and informative book. He draws upon statistics from many walks of life to illustrate his points.
Those who create statistics want to prove something. Best, shows how by asking key questions we can help expose these underlying perspectives:
Who created the statistic?
Why was this statistic created?
How was the statistic created?
Best deals with key issues such as the source of bad statistics: bad guesses, descriptive definitions, confusing questions and biased samples; mutant statistics: the ways in which good statistics can be mangled, misused and misunderstood; and the problems of statistical comparison. It requires no background in maths or statistics. It will help readers be more critical in their acceptance of statistical data.