Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Statistics, Damn Statistics, and Lies - Again

Robert Sameulsen has some fascinating tidbits from the newest edition of Historical Statistics of the United States.

What really struck me was how much, in many cases, the conventional wisdom is simply wrong in the face of the facts (Steve Levitt's terrific Freakonomics does much the same thing, in highly readable fashion).

To wit:

The CW states that urban sprawl is rapidly laying waste to our farms and to the forests and countrysides that surround us.
The Reality is that, from 1945 to 1997, the amount of croplands and forests has actually increased; urban areas today account for less than 3 percent of our total acreage

The CW states that we are an increasingly secular culture, turning our backs on organized religion
The Reality is that, in 1984 60% of all Americans belonged to an organized church. Compare that to 34% in 1890. Of course, it is down slightly from 64% in 1970, but the authors believe the 1994 number is understated by the growing movement of store-front evangelical churches, most likely missed in the study.

The lesson here: don't trust the CW unless they come bearing facts.

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