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04 Jul 2017

Statistical data without proper source will always be misleading

Statistical data, the new-found love of rumor mills

A recent survey found that in India, 45% of the millennial generation is addicted to narcotics in one form or the other. Moreover, it was also noticed that 23% engaged in violent activities.

Did you believe the statement, which was stated above? If you didn't then you're among the very few who didn't. If you did, I don't blame you.

Here's more about it.

In context

Statistical data, the new-found love of rumor mills
Numbers prove nothing


Numbers prove nothing

Whenever somebody brings up numbers in an argument or an article, most of us tend to believe it. Numbers give these articles a sense of legitimacy. It's time to take a closer look at what you're being presented.

Major chances are that this data and conclusion derived from those numbers are inaccurate. Random numbers on the screen shouldn't be taken on face value.


It is easy to put numbers in an argument

Most of the times we find anchors shouting on top of their lungs on the television screen about so and so data and statistical evidence while pleading their cases to an audience.

However, they are surprisingly quiet about how they derived this data.

What was the target demographic? How many respondents were there? Who validated the data?

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Target  group: Me, my friends and my uncle


Target group: Me, my friends and my uncle

Most of the times, these data points are gathered from unreliable sources. It can be outdated or maybe it's not done over the proper demographic.

Even the questions asked to these survey respondents can be fashioned in such a way that it supports the media house's narrative.

If a lie is told over and over again, chances are it'll be taken as the truth.


Look beyond legitimate numbers too

Some statistics may be legitimate, however, conclusions not so much. For example, official statistics noted a spike in the number of crimes against women in 2013. It was 27% higher than what was noted in the previous year.

The word at play here is "noted". In December 2012, the hugely publicized "Nirbhaya case" took place and all eyes were now on atrocities against women.

Everything is not what it seems


Everything is not what it seems

Women were encouraged to "report" sexual assaults and police, who earlier used to brush away minor cases or even major cases, were under pressure to register all of them.

This 27% spike was because more women were "reporting" crimes and police were now registering them.

There must have been an increase but the numbers were being driven by old crimes, which previously went unreported.


Question it, that's how the lie gets exposed

Numbers are always tricky. Often they are thrown around to provide weightage in an argument or drive home a notion, which someone wants you to believe.

Always question the authenticity of something before placing your faith on it. After all, 88% Indians said they believe in everything they hear and 22% said they don't.

And yes, I made this up again right now.

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