Doubly-Damned Lies II

Nobody asked but …

More observations on government statistics, government info, and government data:

  • When I shared the previous effort, Doubly-Damned Lies, there were objections … predictably.
  • I was given the example of homelessness in the Bahamas, as the result of the recent hurricane. The claim was implicitly made that statistics would somehow make a factual situation better,  that facts organized into appropriate knowledge would indicate a bright line along the path which should be taken.  But, is there a statistical, one-size-fits-all?  Why not let the facts speak directly to each case at hand?
  • Some statistical treatment of emergency situations, however, may shed light on the problem.  There is the case, documented by Edward Tufte, about how epidemiology made a giant step forward.  In this case, the statistician immersed himself in the environment of the facts, and the design of the research was ad hoc.
  • Cyclical statistical report formats become artifacts of some historical set of facts.  They become institutions which preserve some status quo.
  • There is always the danger that statistics published with good intent will be ill-used by others with ill intent.
  • We are exposed to the damages of statistical treatment poorly designed.  Every statistical investigation must be designed by designers with pre-existing biases.  Do these biases affect the outcomes?  For examples, I heartily recommend two books recently read, The Mismeasure of Man, by Stephen Jay Gould, and Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely.

— Kilgore Forelle

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