Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Math Errors And Political Agendas

I know this stems from my academic background, but I really can't abide people who make egregious math errors in an effort to promote their agenda. Sometimes it involves simply quoting statistics that have no basis in reality. Case in point, note this comment by John Kerry on NBC today.
53% of America’s children do not graduate from high school.
The real number turns out to be around 87%. (Hat tip Polipundit.) Why would someone make such a claim when they have to know how quickly and easily there error would be discovered?
(Update: Malkin has the video.)

Sometimes the error is more complicated, but still simple enough to not be excusable. As an example (hat tip Instapundit), here's a blog post by Eugene Volokh detailing some sketchy math being done by the Oregon State University newspaper. The paper made the following statement.
According to a press release issued by the Women’s Center, 2,000 rapes occur every five minutes.
If that number seems shockingly high to you, it should; it suggests there are 200 million rapes a year. When Volokh questioned the paper, he was directed to the press release which actually says:
About 2,000 rapes are committed daily at the rate of about one every 5 minutes.
2,000 daily is much different that 2,000 every 5 minutes. The errors continue as Volokh points out:
A "rate of about one every 5 minutes" would be about 300 daily ((60/5) x 24), not about 2000 daily.
There remains great debate about what the actual number is.

What is so frustrating about this to me is that there is no need to hype this ill in our society. Whether the number is 300 daily or 2000 daily, it is appallingly too high. One does not need to suggest it is 700,000 daily to make a point.

This fudging numbers issue really bothers me. As as result, should I suggest that 79.2% of all mainstream media articles have incorrect statistics? No, because I have no idea what the actual percentage is; therefore I won't pretend that I do. And irrespective of how noble their agenda is, no one else should either.