Lying with statistics in the news


How did I miss this one? You can find many examples of lying with statistics at Stats.org, which seems to be a non-profit associated with George Mason University (the Tar Heel in me says boo-hiss). Given they are a non-profit associated with a university (even if they are a small operation), they have much greater resources dedicated to debunking bad statistics in the media than I do. Of course, my scope is much narrower as well.

Update: via Gelman’s post on “Using numbers to persuade?”, I found this as well.

I find these sites valuable, though I’ve found several arguments that I can’t agree with. For example, in “one of their articles”:http://stats.org/stories/More_Teflon_jan27_06.htm, I’ve found the following:

* _Thus the EPA saw only “suggestive evidence of carcinogenicity.” Seed also noted that “Studies have not shown any effects directly associated with PFOA exposure.”_ Again, this isn’t a conservative statement, and any drug that goes to the FDA with “suggestive evidence of cardinogenicity” would get a much more thorough scrutiny. For something that isn’t a drug, and serves more of a convenience, shouldn’t we give this the same scrutiny?
* _ In other words, the real news in this story is that the EPA and the chemical companies have decided to take an extremely risk averse position on PFOA because of its presence in the environment and blood, but not because there is any evidence as yet to suggest that there might be a genuine risk to humans._ When it comes to preventable disease, who says risk averse is a bad position? If this risk applies only to three people in the United States out of everybody who gets exposed, through non-stick cookware, microwave popcorn, or otherwise, to PFOAs, is our risk averse position unjustified?
* And in “this article”:http://stats.org/stories/Nora_Ephron_Teflon.htm Trevor Butterworth comments the following: _One case of deformity from one person (among thousands) who worked with PFOA is an association that is scientifically meaningless, especially when there isn’t a single health study that has ever shown any such association. This was tabloid journalism at its worst._ This was based on a CBS news story about a woman who worked at a plant with higher than average exposures to PFOAs and who happened to have a birth defect. While not proof of association (and no one with a stats or science degree would make this claim on the basis of one person), it is worrisome and certainly worthy of further investigation. DuPont certainly thought so, as well.

The EPA(Environmental Protection Agency) has information “here”:http://www.epa.gov/oppt/pfoa/.

So yeah, I do find that STATS.org makes a lot of inane pseudoskeptical arguments such as the ones found above. (And they make a lot of good ones as well.) However, they provide a valuable service, and that is to counterbalance a lot of inane misrepresenting/confounding of statistical arguments found in the media.

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