Damned Lies and Statistics

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In Damned Lies and Statistics, author Joel Best asks:

  • Does the number of children gunned down double each year?
  • Does anorexia kill 150,000 young women annually?

Many social statistics get mutated and twisted to partisan advantage when reported by journalists to a non-math-savvy public; see innumeracy.

Amazon review

Amazon.com says:

  • "Bad statistics live on," writes Best in this highly accessible book, "they take on lives of their own." Take this one: a psychologist's estimate that perhaps 6 percent of priests were at some point sexually attracted to young people was transformed through a chain of errors into the "fact" that 6 percent of priests were pedophiles. Then there was the one about eating disorders. An original estimate that 150,000 women were anorexic, made by concerned activists, mutated into 150,000 women dying from the disorder annually (the truth: about 70 women a year). But these two mutant statistics have been published and passed along as facts for years, enduring long after the truth has been pointed out. [1]

Interesting facts

Best reports:

  • Most social scientists consider Kinsey's 10 percent estimate for homosexuality too high; more recent, more reliable studies have consistently produced lower estimates. (page 92)

He cites the work of Edward O. Laumann, et al. to assert that:

  • ...the incidence of homosexuality among adults is lower - between 1 and 3 percent (page 89, citing footnote on page 181)