Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

A few years ago, I read a book by Joel Best called, “Damned Lies and Statistics.

The title is based on a phrase popularized by Mark Twain, though it’s origin isn’t firmly established….goes something like this:

“There are three kinds of lies: Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics”

The book began with what Best described as, “The Worst Social Statistic Ever.” The quote was, “Every year since 1950, the number of American children gunned down has doubled.”

When taken literally, that would mean that 35 trillion American children were gunned down between 1950-1995. What the author meant to say was that the total number of child deaths by firearms in 1950 was half what it was in the year 1995.

Surprisingly, the US population grew by some 73% from 1950 to 1995, so it would follow that other counts, such as deaths would also be about double. Point being that statistics should not be accepted blindly. That brings me to a new one I saw today floating around the interwebs:

More Americans were killed by guns since 1968 than on the battlefields of all the wars in American history.

The specific figures are based on estimates from

  • Firearms-related deaths between 1968 and 2015 was about 1,516,863
  • The total number of casualties related to all wars in US history was approximately 1,396,733

I’m not being paid to do this, I don’t have a professional research staff, and my Terminator Robot isn’t programmed to do that for me…yet. So, rather than gather and correlate 47 years-worth of data, I’m just going to pick on 1968’s mortality rates instead.

According to the US Census Bureau, the population that year was approximately ~200,700,000. Referencing the Vital Statistics of the United States 1968 Volume II – Mortality Part A , the total death count was 1,930,082.

That’s over half a million more deaths than all of the American casualties of every US war in American history combined! Impressive, huh?

Of those, 9,425 people reportedly died from “firearms and explosives.” It doesn’t break that figure down to gun-related deaths only, nor does it distinguish between homicide, suicide, war or accidents. That’s accounts for a whole 0.488% of the total death count that year. This is about 1/6th the number of motor-vehicle deaths, which came to 54,862, or about 5.7 times as many deaths by vehicle as there were by firearms and explosives.

The point (if there is one) is this: I can quote unqualified, out-of-context statistics based on incomplete/erroneous “data” to make bogus conclusions too!

In Summary

  • Think for yourself. Don’t rely on eye-grabby statistics
  • Do your own homework and take other facets into consideration
  • Terminator robots aren’t a good source of important information…yet