Monday, November 27, 2006

Iraq, World War II, and Absurd Statistics

As I flew home from Thanksgiving this past weekend, I noticed the passenger to my left was reading USA Today. At the bottom of the front page was an article about how the U.S. has now spent as much time in Iraq as they did in World War II. You can read it online version here.

This "revelation" of course has been picked up by many people, who are using it as the basis to make all sorts of ridiculous assumptions. Everyone has heard the quote, "There are lies, damn lies, and statistics," but this example is beyond the pale. Just to make the point, let's look at another (in this case morbid) statistical comparison.

USA Today wants to compare WWII and Iraq? OK, let's compare combat fatalities. The current fatality count in Iraq is 2871 (as of today). The WWII fatality count was 407,300. At the current rates, it would take 519.5 years before the Iraq fatality count would equal World War II count. That's right, somewhere in the year 2525.

Obviously making such a statistical comparison is virtually meaningless. So is comparing the number of days spent, as USA Today and now a host of others are doing. If you have opinions on the war in Iraq, make them known; I firmly believe that society benefits from hearing a diverse view on any subject. But leave the mind-numbingly moronic statistics out of the discussion.

Milblogs (hattip Instapundit) illustrates another way in which the comparison is meaningless. Jay Tea, over at Wizbangblog, rips Michael Moore's use of the statistic to shreds.