Defending the Validity of Statistics

All you hear these days is that Statistics are misleading. But what about the people who work for a living calculating these statistics that people just push aside? As a Mathematics and Statistics major, I am almost offended that statistics are seen as lies and not the truth. I also understand that they are taken out of context to prove a point when it comes to politics and marketing. It is still unfair to say that all statistics are lies.

When research is conducted properly, the numerical analysis of the data is taken very seriously and is accurate. For example, given a large enough sample size (which depends on the population you are studying, IE: pop>10*(sample size)) your data will be considered representative of the population. However, the sample also needs to be randomly gathered. That is honestly not as difficult as it may sound. Just ask every nth person you see, or make sure you aren’t lazy and take a convenience sample. So, make sure you have a random sample that is large enough and your basic conditions are met. Then, the actual numbers that are calculated can be trusted for what they are worth.

Of course, the media will skew statistics to make them more convincing for whatever point they are trying to make. For example, the approval rating for Governor Patterson in New York is 30%. But that is only among Democrats, and those who are registered to vote. However, those minor details were spoken but never displayed on the TV itself, so that 30% did not have the effect it should have. This is the way of media. It is sad to see that it seems to be the fault of the statistics not the way they are portrayed that makes them lies.

The other issue outside of if the statistics themselves are reliable is what they even mean. In the world of mathematics everything is in numbers, plain and simple. Thus, someone who is not a math person may not be able to understand what statistics mean unless they are made very clear. However, we are taught as statisticians to be able to talk to a client and relay the information to them without sounding condescending. Putting the numbers in to layman’s terms is a part of the job.

All in all, every statistic heard on the news or in commercials should be taken with a grain of salt. Of course the data is rarely represented appropriately, and marketing firms and politicians are known for manipulating data to make it look one way. This is not the fault of the statistics or the people behind them. We are trained properly and can not be blamed for the way the statistics look.