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Lies, Damned Lies, or Statistics: How to Tell the Truth with Statistics

Lies, Damned Lies, or Statistics: How to Tell the Truth with Statistics

Lies, Damned Lies, or Statistics: How to Tell the Truth with Statistics

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Year:2017
Publisher:Colorado State University
Pages:143 pages
Language:english
Since:29/03/2019
Size:1.81 MB
License:CC-BY-SA

Content:

Mark Twain’s autobiography [TNA10] modestly questions his own reporting of the numbers of hours per day he sat down to write, and of the number of words he wrote in that time, saying:

Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of themmyself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force:

"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."

We contend that statistics are not a type of lie, but rather, when used carefully, are an alternative to lying. For this reason, we use "or" in the title of this book, where Twain/Disraeli used "and," to underline how we are thinking of statistics, correctly applied, as standing in opposition to lies and damned lies. But why use such a complicated method of telling the truth as statistics, rather than, say, telling a good story or painting a moving picture? The answer, we believe, is simply that there are many concrete, specific questions that humans have about the world which are best answered by carefully collecting some data and using a modest amount of mathematics and a fair bit of logic to analyze them. The thing about the Scientific Method is that it just seems to work. So why not learn how to use it?

Learning better techniques of critical thinking seems particularly important at this moment of history when our politics in the United States (and elsewhere) are so divisive, and different parties cannot agree about the most basic facts. A lot of commentators from all parts of the political spectrum have speculated about the impact of so-called fake news on the outcomes of recent recent elections and other political debates. It is therefore the goal of this book to help you learn How to Tell the Truth with Statistics and, therefore, how to tell when others are telling the truth ... or are faking their "news."

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