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Damned Lies and Statistics: Untangling Numbers from the Media, Politicians, and Activistsby Joel Best
Synopses & Reviews
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.
While startling statistics shape the thinking about social issues, the author attests that these numbers can be wrong. This book is a lively guide to spotting bad statistics and learning to think critically about these influential numbers. Tables.
Startling statistics shape our thinking about social issues. But all too often, these numbers are wrong. Examining how bad statistics emerge, spread, and come to shape policy debates, this book provides a guide to spotting, and learning to think critically, about these influential numbers.
"[An] 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 Masada 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
"A real page turner. Best is the John Grisham of sociology!"—James Holstein, author of The New Language of Qualitative Method
"In our era, numbers are as much a staple of political debates as stories. And just as stories so often turn into fables, so Best shows that we often believe the most implausible of numbers--to the detriment of us all."—Peter Reuter, co-author of Drug War Heresies: Learning from Other Vices,Times and Places
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.
Table of Contents
Introduction: The Worst Social Statistic Ever
1 The Importance of Social Statistics
2 Soft Facts: Sources of Bad Statistics
3 Mutant Statistics: Methods for Mangling Numbers
4 Apples and Oranges: Inappropriate Comparisons
5 Stat Wars: Conflicts over Social Statistics
6 Thinking about Social Statistics: The Critical Approach
What Our Readers Are Saying
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