Stat Spotting (9/2008)
A Field Guide to Identifying Dubious Data
questionable numbers B. Background (B1 Statistical
Benchmarks, B2 Severity and Frequency)
2: Varieties of
C. Blunders: C1. The slippery decimal point, C2.
Blotched transactions, C3. Misleading graphs, C4. Careless
D. Sources: who counted and why? D1. Big
round numbers, D2. Hyperbole, D3. Shocking claims
D4. Naming the problem
E. Definitions, what did they count? E1.
Broad definitions, E2. Expanding definitions, E3.
Changing the definitions, E4. The uncounted.
F. Measurements: how did they count? F1. Creating
measures, F2. Odd units of analysis, F3. Loaded
F4. Raising the Bar, F5. Technical measures.
G. Packaging: what are they telling us? G1.
Impressive formats, G2. Misleading samples, G3.
Convenient time frames
G4. Peculiar Percentages, G5. Selective comparisons, G6.
G7. Averages, G8. Epidemics, G9. Correlations, G10.
H. Debates: what if they disagree?
H1. Causality debates, H2. Equality debates, H3. Policy
3: Stat-Spotting on
I. summary; common signs of dubious data
J. Better data: some characteristics
K. If you had no idea things were that bad, they
L. Suggestions for those who want to continue
Review by Bernie Madison, Univ. of Arkansas: "As we know swim
in information, much of it bogus or biased, spotting dubious data is
super important. In Stat-Spotting, Joel Best plays off the format
of field guides to give readers good commonsense ways not only to sense
bad data but also to understand what's wrong. Broken up into short
independent sections, the book is easy and enjoyable to read. I
will recommend it to my students, and to others, as a resource for
critical consumers of numbers."
Review by Neil Lutsky, Carleton
college: "Stat-spotting proposes to help readers become more
critical consumers of statistical claims. It is an important work
that addresses a significant problem in contemporary society:
thoughtlessness about numerical claims. Joel Best provides a
direct, accessible guide to critical readings of statistics."
Review by Alan Jasper, Graduate
Center, City University of New York: "If you ever scan the
newspaper, watch the TV news, or surf the blogs, you should read this
charming book. If you're a journalist, read it twice."
More Damned Lies and Statistics (8/2004)
How Numbers Confuse Public Issues
Table of Contents
Ch 1: Missing Numbers
Ch 2: Confusing Numbers
Ch 3: Scary Numbers
Ch 4: Authoritative
Ch 5: Magical Numbers
Ch 6: Contentious
Ch 7: Toward
Excerpts (Ch 7):
"Why not consider statistical literacy a skill? But this raises
another question: what sort of basic skill is it?" "This
competition [between departments] means that teaching basic skills often
is devalued." "College instructors are well aware that
substantial proportions of students have trouble reading -- let alone
thinking critically about -- basic graphs and tables. This is a
very important skill because graphs and tables are certain to appear in
much of the reading a students will need to do in the course of college.
And yet, no one wants to teach this skill, or at least spend much time
doing so. Many have the sense that students should already
be proficient in these skills when they get to college (even though it
is clear that many are not). To many others, it seems to simple,
too basic -- a waste of time for professors who would prefer to teach
the more advanced topics in their disciplines." "Thus statistic
and mathematics instructors are unlikely to have any more interest in
teaching statistical literacy than English professors have in teaching
first-year composition. Nor are other departments eager to teach
this material. I teach sociology courses, but I know that most
sociology professors tend to dismiss statistical literacy as "not really
sociology"; faculty in psychology and other disciplines probably have
the same reaction. Statistical literacy falls between the stools on
which academic departments perch." "The lessons involved in
teaching statistical literacy are not so terribly difficulty; rather,
the difficulty lies in finding someone willing to teach them."
John Allen Paulos: "In More Damned Lies and Statistics,
Joel Best provides us with another telling compendium of misleading
statistics about a variety of topical issues. His approach to
explicating them is lucid, instructive, and quite engaging."
Phillip Jenkins: Through
his devastating work on common myths about social problems, Joel Best
has established himself as a brilliant observer of our national fads and
scares. In his latest book, More Damned Lies and Statistics,
Best confronts yet more of the pseudo-statistics by which we are
bamboozled day by day. One obvious question comes to mind: if he
can deal with highly significant topics in such lucid and enjoyable
prose, why can't other social scientists begin to match him?"
Augsburg students: " I think that [reading] this [book] makes me a
more informed person and one less easily duped. I feel like I am less
confused, now, by conflicting claims. It wasn’t a book I would have
read outside of class, but I’m glad I did read it."
Lies and Statistics (5/2001)
Untangling Numbers from the Media, Politicians and Activists
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction: The Worst Social Statistic
Ch 1: The Importance of Social Statistics
Ch 2: Soft Facts: Sources of Bad
Ch 3: Mutant Statistics: Methods for
Ch 4: Apples and Oranges: Inappropriate
Ch 5: Stat Wars: Conflicts over Social
Ch 6: Thinking about Social Statistics:
The Critical Approach