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June 26, 2009 - 7:50 am

David Harsanyi has a column in the span style=”font-style:italic;”Denver Post/span entitled, a href=”http://www.denverpost.com/opinion/ci_12691196″How to lie with statistics — again:/abr /blockquotebr /Did you know that around 300 million Americans went without food, water and shelter at some point last year?br /br /I am a survivor.br /br /If you were blessed with the prodigiously creative and cunning mind of a politician, that kind of statistic — meaningless, but technically true — could be put to good use.br /br /In the entertaining 1954 classic, a href=”http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0393310728?ie=UTF8tag=wwwviolentkicomlinkCode=as2camp=1789creative=9325creativeASIN=0393310728″”How to Lie with Statistics, “/aimg src=”http://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=wwwviolentkicoml=as2o=1a=0393310728″ width=”1″ height=”1″ border=”0″ alt=”" style=”border:none !important; margin:0px !important;” /Darrell Huff writes that “misinforming people by the use of statistical material might be called statistical manipulation . . . or statisticulation.”br /br /One of the most persistent examples of modern-day statisticulation is the sufficiently true claim that 46 million (it becomes 50 million when senators really get keyed up) Americans are without health insurance.br /br /Set loose on the public’s compassion, this number is a powerful tool in the hands of eloquent orators like President Barack Obama when peddling government-run health care reform. And no matter how often the figure is debunked, no matter how many studies point to its inexact nature, it’s just too politically inviting not to embrace…..br /br /These facts does not undermine the argument for nationalized health care (history and common sense do that already). They do, however, point out that many statistics, to quote Huff again, get by “only because the magic of numbers brings about a suspension of common sense.” /blockquotebr /br /I think that when stats “confirm” people’s worldview, it is not the numbers themselves that are “magical”, but rather the magical thinking a person engages in that allows them to believe the numbers are true.

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