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More Damned Lies and Statistics: How Numbers Confuse Public Issues [Hardcover]

by Joel Best
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 6, 2004 0520238303 978-0520238305 New Ed
In this sequel to the acclaimed Damned Lies and Statistics, which the Boston Globe said "deserves a place next to the dictionary on every school, media, and home-office desk," Joel Best continues his straightforward, lively, and humorous account of how statistics are produced, used, and misused by everyone from researchers to journalists. Underlining the importance of critical thinking in all matters numerical, Best illustrates his points with examples of good and bad statistics about such contemporary concerns as school shootings, fatal hospital errors, bullying, teen suicides, deaths at the World Trade Center, college ratings, the risks of divorce, racial profiling, and fatalities caused by falling coconuts. More Damned Lies and Statistics encourages all of us to think in a more sophisticated and skeptical manner about how statistics are used to promote causes, create fear, and advance particular points of view.

Best identifies different sorts of numbers that shape how we think about public issues: missing numbers are relevant but overlooked; confusing numbers bewilder when they should inform; scary numbers play to our fears about the present and the future; authoritative numbers demand respect they don’t deserve; magical numbers promise unrealistic, simple solutions to complex problems; and contentious numbers become the focus of data duels and stat wars. The author's use of pertinent, socially important examples documents the life-altering consequences of understanding or misunderstanding statistical information. He demystifies statistical measures by explaining in straightforward prose how decisions are made about what to count and what not to count, what assumptions get made, and which figures are brought to our attention.

Best identifies different sorts of numbers that shape how we think about public issues. Entertaining, enlightening, and very timely, this book offers a basis for critical thinking about the numbers we encounter and a reminder that when it comes to the news, people count—in more ways than one.

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In this sequel to Best's Damned Lies and Statistics (2001), the premise is simple: there are vast quantities of statistics being bandied about in all walks of life, and we frequently rely on them to form our own opinions about things. Often, however, neither we nor the experts understand how those numbers work. "People need to agree about what to count before they can start counting," the author tells us, explaining why different people often disagree about the same statistics. Some journalists say child-abduction cases are up; others say they're down; but no one has bothered to agree on what they mean by child or abduction. Another problem: news media perpetuate inaccuracies by citing each other's statistics without checking for accuracy. This is why, for example, we keep hearing that 150 people die every year after being hit by falling coconuts. (In fact, there is no such statistic because no one tracks coconut deaths.) The book is packed with helpful tips for understanding statistics, and it even manages to make a usually dull topic entertaining. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Review

"Best provides us with another telling compendium of misleading statistics about a variety of topical issues. His approach to explicating them is lucid, instructive, and quite engaging." - John Allen Paulos, author of Innumeracy; "Best has established himself as a brilliant observer of our national fads and scares. If he can deal with highly significant topics in such lucid and enjoyable prose, why can't other social scientists begin to match him?" - Philip Jenkins, author of The New Anti-Catholicism; "Joel Best continues to confront us with the delicious lunacy of statistical gaffes and fantasies. Whether discussing 'deaths from falling coconuts,' teenage bullying, or the likelihood of contracting breast cancer, Best teaches us to avoid the dangers of statistical illiteracy. As his cogent and comic examples from the media amply demonstrate, there is much teaching yet to be done. While we like to believe that it is our opponents who are fools with figures, this volume demonstrates that liberals, conservatives, libertarians, lawyers, physicians, and educators fall in the same numerical traps." - Gary Alan Fine, coauthor of Whispers on the Color Line"

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 217 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; New Ed edition (September 6, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520238303
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520238305
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #601,795 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
(8)
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Eye-Opening Look at a Subject Often Taken for Granted November 22, 2005
Format:Hardcover
I didn't read the first Damned Lies, but the author says that he is making the same points but organizing the information differently for this follow-up. This is one of those books that has the potential to radically alter how we look at numbers. Best shows the reader how a data set can be manipulated to give a desired result.

Best is careful not to single out one side of the political spectrum when making his points. Says the author: "I don't believe that any particular group, faction, or ideology holds a monopoly on poor statistical reasoning." Rather than wallowing in this often-debated territory, the author turns to spheres of academia and the sciences, where radical-sounding results lead to more and more publications and grant dollars. This is a world not seen by most pundits and commentators.

When the issue of school shootings was sensationalized during the late 1990s and early 2000s, accounts in the popular media left out statistics that showed school crime had actually fallen over the past decade. The author calls this omission "missing numbers." Given what looked like a spike in shootings from around 1997 to 2001, few would believe, without seeing those numbers, that there was a clear, growing problem in our schools.

In his chapter, "Confusing Numbers," Best shows how figures can be reported, sometimes in a disingenuous manner, to make them sound better than they are. A good example of this is cited when the author turns to the Bush tax cuts of 2001. The administration claimed that their package would reduce the average family's taxes by over $1,000. Opponents shot back that half of all families would see less $100 of relief. Clearly, this is a case in which averaging wildly lopsided numbers doesn't tell the whole story.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Type of Book That Everyone Should Read July 8, 2005
Format:Hardcover
It's always refreshing to read a book in which the author strips away the wrapping around statistical figures to expose what those figures really could mean and how to question their credibility. In this book, as in its predecessor (Damned Lies and Statistics, 2001), the author warns against believing as facts the statistical figures that are always presented to us from various sources - both authoritative and otherwise. The solution is to be critical and to ask questions such as: Who produced those numbers? Exactly what was counted? What are those numbers really saying? Is there a way to present the information in a clearer more objective way? At the end, the author strongly argues in favor of the development of some system in society that would impart, what he calls, statistical literacy in the population at large. The book is clear and well written; it should be widely read.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars well written, thought provoking June 30, 2005
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Few "informational" books read as well as this one. The author disects commonally accepted data and shows how misleading statistics can be. It was an easy read and still the gray matter was stimulated and I put it down smarter than when I had picked it up. This would be a book journalists, kinesiologists, or sociologists would find useful to accompany their already inquisitive mind. I had heard the author on the radio and decided to pick up this book. I was pleased with the purchase and experience.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Damn Book You'll Read December 22, 2008
Format:Hardcover
If you want to realize how you are manipulated by number merchants, then study this book, take notes, copiously underline sections. If however, you want to believe what is spoon fed you from both the right and definitely the left, stay away.

Excellent book, highly recommended. I reference this in my college courses quite often.
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