Tuesday, September 22, 2009

One in Six ....

A CEO was seeking to fill a position in his firm's research department. He had narrowed his search to three candidates, a mathematician, an accountant and a statistician. In individual interviews at the conclusion of each interview, he said to the interviewee: “ I have one final question. What is two plus two?”

The mathematician confidently smiled and said, “four.”

When the accountant was asked, he briefly hesitated and said, “four,” paused and said, “usually.”

The statistician glanced both directions, leaned in, lowered his voice and said, “what do you want it to be.”

Below are some interesting statistics with links to the source.

One in three Americans are unaware of Charles Darwin.

One in four Americans read no books last year.

One in four women have survived rape or attempted rape.

One in four children live in poverty.

One in four college students have a sexually transmitted disease.

At least one in five men in developed countries are at risk of abusing or becoming dependent on alcohol during their lifetimes.

One in five young women have experienced forced sexual intercourse.

One in five Americans Has Some Level of Disability.

One in six adults are without health insurance.

One in six Americans claim workplace bias.

One in six men are victims of child sexual abuse.

One in six American children are hungry.

One of every 6 American children is overweight or at risk of becoming overweight.

One in seven women will develop breast cancer.

I used to be much more believing of statistics. Several years ago there was an ad that was played repeatedly on the radio. I don't remember what organization they were promoting, but the ad went something like this: In a quite, low, serious tone, the narrator said, "It could be the person working the in the cubicle next to you, it could be the person your ride the bus with everyday but one out of 6 people are hungry."

Maybe it wasn't one in six, it could have been one in four or one is five or some other number, but it was a low number. Anyway, I didn't pay much attention the first couple of time I heard it, then I started thinking, "who do I know that is hungry?" I could not think of anyone that I thought may be hungry except people on a diet trying to loose weight. Sure, I believe there are hungry people, but not one if five, or whatever the number was.

After that I started paying attention to other statistics. The stats about what decease you will get is often based on unrealistic assumptions, such as you live to age X and you don't die with something else first.

The stats on rape and sexual abuse, I am very sceptical of and think they are politically motivated. A few years ago there was a report that their was a spike in domestic violence on Superbowl Sunday fueled by all of the testosterone of watching football. It turns out that that was not true.

I find it interesting that one is six children are overweight and that one in six are also hungry. I don't know how they came up with those statistics.

I am very unbelieving of statistics like the above. I tend to take them all with a grain of salt. I think people just pull stats out of the air to support their cause or they use such convoluted parameters and definitions that they may as well pull them out of the air or they are based on faulty primary data or poor sampling and methodology.

Is anyone else as sceptical as I?

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  1. As someone that has done statistical analysis for work, I know that the power of statistics is important and powerful. As a teacher told me years ago--"get to know statistics so that you are not fooled by statisticians," is right on the mark. You are right, Rod, many stats you come across are politically motivated and skewed. (Remember how it was 47 million without health insurance and how now it's 30 million!) I wish more people were as skeptical as you are.

  2. These are all unfortunate... save for the Darwin one, which is actually good news that there are some who are unfamiliar with his goofy, unverifiable theories and bad science.

    If only Hitler had been unfamiliar with Darwin too...

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