Muse. Ramble. Rant. Repeat

18% of Statistics are Made Up

I’m a nerd. No shock there. But to make it worse, I’m a nerd with a speciality in numbers. I like numbers, I get numbers, and numbers make me happy the way chocolate makes most women happy. When I’m having a stressful day creating a spreadsheet calculating something, anything will calm me down.

Numbers don’t lie. They are always the same. There are rules and order to numbers.

To the rest of the world I know that is strange. I’m that girl in the grocery store muttering to herself – “62 plus 6 less 1.50 coupon”. At the checkout I know how much my purchase is going to be. I am that annoying person who gives you odds amounts of change so I get whole dollars back. When I tip at a restaurant I always round-up the tip so it’s an even number that I’m paying.

I know everyone else out there isn’t like this. For the most part I forgive you just as you forgive me on the whole grammar/punctuation/spelling thing – but there are a few instances when I can’t forgive. Times like when the mathematical errors are so great or misleading that I become distracted by them.

Let me give you a few examples:

Example 1:

Some time ago I was in a presentation where it was VERY IMPORTANT THAT I PAID ATTENTION. The subject was VERY IMPORTANT. The speaker was VERY IMPORTANT. I listened intently for the first 20 minutes or so – then the speaker said something along the following:

“10% of this does that, 35% of that does this, and 45% does this and that.”

Everyone else in the room nodded and continued to listen to the presentation. Me? I started obsessing about the missing 10%. Clearly, not the point of the presentation. Clearly she meant 20% instead of 10%. But to me and my warped mind? The rest of the 40 minutes were lost because I became obsessed with that missing 10% – I couldn’t concentrate on anything else she said.


Example 2:

It’s monopoly time at McDonald’s. CJ won a free muffin. I was running late this morning so I stole the free muffin coupon and headed to McDonald’s. In order to redeem my free muffin I was handed a little release form with a skill testing question on it and a pen.

The girl behind the counter informed me that the answer to the question was 44. Just as I was about to write down 44 in the blank I read the question:

42-(6+8) =

I looked at the girl behind the counter with a cocked eyebrow and wrote “28” in the blank. She told me that was wrong. I (as gently as possible) explained that the answer was 28 due to the brackets. She gave me a funny look. I then held up the line and explained to her the brief rules of BEDMAS (brackets, exponents, division, multiplication, addition, subtraction). She, clearly getting inpatient with me, said “Oh, I guess I didn’t learn that before I dropped out” and gave me my free muffin.

Example 3:

*Disclaimer: I am not now nor have I ever claimed to be informed about all the political dealings in Canada/Middle East/Universe. While I do not support war, military efforts, etc. I am not against anyone in the military nor the actions they may or may not have to take on behalf of this country or any other country. The below story is to illustrate my full on crazy and not meant as a political statement. Let’s just say I’m a giant fence-sitter on the entire issue, mkay?

Yesterday morning, while driving CJ to work, the 6am newscast came on CBC. It’s the national report so you get the brief rundown of what’s happening in the country with a few special interest news reports. One thing I generally enjoy about Canada is that (for the most part) our media outlets attempt to give a balanced and fair report about a story (I said for the most part!). Unlike some (nameless) networks in the States we don’t really have a right-wing or left-wing news channel… they all kind of report the same. Now, there is a decent amount of liberal bias but they really do try to hide it. Until yesterday.

Canada, as you may or may not know, has troops stationed in Afghanistan. They have been there for 8 years. During that time 131 Canadian troops have been killed in action. These are facts.

CBC reported this morning that the odds of a Canadian dying in Afghanistan were 62 per 1000 troops. In fact, they reported that it is more deadly to serve in Afghanistan then it was in some other long ago war mission (the exact one escapes me). I’m sure there was other information thrown in there but in the 2 minute story that is the main point I got from it. That number didn’t sit right with me because I knew that 131 Canadians have died in Afghanistan and based on the fact that 62 out of 1000 would die that would mean that we only sent about 2000 troops to Afghanistan… and… fuck… how did stats work again? I know that probabilities aren’t as straightforward as that but …

So I dropped CJ off and went home and immediately started googling. I wanted to see this report that was filed and to reread it. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, it didn’t seem to be posted anywhere. I did however find out that more than 10,000 troops (some sites state it at 16,000 troops) have served in Afghanistan so the probability of dying is really only about 13.1 per 1000 and not the reported 62. My math may be wrong here (it’s been a really long time since I took stats) but the point is the news report was wrong. It just seemed to have such a horrible liberal bias to it. Why didn’t they just report the truth? And not make it sensational? The truth is awful enough, that fact that anyone is dying serving their country is a tragedy. To make matters worse, when I talked to CJ about the news story last night he remembered the as being “1 in every 62 Canadians die in Afghanistan”.

This is a blatant abuse of math. To use numbers in such a way to manipulate someone and then have that person potentially repeat the error to others drives me up the wall. The reason I love numbers is that numbers don’t lie; math is simple. However, math can be manipulated in such ways that serve an agenda. It drives me insane and it’s all I can focus on for hours. I could rant about this issue for days. However, I’ll stop now. And this concludes your daily quota of nerd rant.


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