David Spiegelhalter on `how to spot a dodgy statistic’

In this political season, it’s useful to brush up on rhetorical skills, particularly ones involving numbers and statistics, or what John Allen Paulos called numeracy. Professor David Spiegelhalter has written a guide to some of these tricks. Read the whole thing. Highlights, though, of devices used to produce statistics which aren’t-quite-right (that is, wrong):

  • Use a real number, but change its meaning
  • Make the number look big (but not too big)
  • Casually imply causation from correlation
  • Choose your definitions carefully
  • Use total numbers rather than proportions (or whichever way suits your argument)
  • Don’t provide any relevant context
  • Exaggerate the importance of a possibly illusory change
  • Prematurely announce the success of a policy initiative using unofficial selected data
  • If all else fails, just make the numbers up

David Spiegelhalter is the Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge and president elect of the Royal Statistical Society. Among many other things, he’s an advocate for expressing life risks as micromorts.

About hypergeometric

See http://www.linkedin.com/in/deepdevelopment/ and http://667-per-cm.net
This entry was posted in abstraction, anemic data, Bayes, Bayesian, chance, citizenship, civilization, corruption, Daniel Kahneman, disingenuity, Donald Trump, education, games of chance, ignorance, maths, moral leadership, obfuscating data, open data, perceptions, politics, rationality, reason, reasonableness, rhetoric, risk, sampling, science, sociology, statistics, the right to know. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s