This is a mathematics book which deals with the reading and understanding of statistics. The book majors on methodology as it helps in critical analysis of statistics. The authors point is the focal issue in the modern democracy. As voters and citizens, we must first understand the real issues before we make effective policy decisions. We must also do the same for business and research. Our decisions are based on statistics and we must be able to apply statistics in order to make informed decisions.
In chapter one, the author talks about “the importance of social statistics,” where he explains the sources of statistics, the importance of statistics and how we use statistics. Chapter two, titled “soft facts,” highlights sources of good and bad statistics. Good statistics are said to come from clear and reasonable definitions, good data, appropriate samples, and clear and reasonable measures. On the other hand, bad statistics comes from poor definitions, guesses, bad samples, and poor measurements. In chapter three, the author takes us through the methods of mangling data. When the four main requirements for good statistics are violated, then bad and mutant statistics is likely to occur. Bad statistics is easily spotted while mutant statistics needs keen understanding for its identity. As the statistics mutate, history is taken on, and for the understanding of this mutation, it is necessary to understand the history. Sometimes it becomes difficult to recognize, trace, and categorize some errors in statistics due to the transformation, the confusion, and the compound errors that create chains of these statistics.
In chapter four, the author uses the title “apples and oranges” to describe the dangers that can result from inappropriate comparison. When measures and projections are changed and unchanged over time as the comparison is made, then, dangers are most likely to arise. Problems in data collection and measurement may occur when comparisons among groups and places are made. In addition, comparison among the social problems can create unique difficulties. It is therefore essential to understand the essence of good comparison. In chapter five, Best takes us through the problems that are most likely to occur when advocates make a case based on questionable numbers. Finally in chapter six, the author sums up his advice on how to understand statistics. He uses the title “thinking about social statistics,” and suggests that we should not be fascinated in the face of numbers, and neither should we be cynical. He advises that, we should be very critical and thoughtful whenever we deal with statistics.
In a nutshell, the authors main point is that social activities necessitates the production of descriptive statistics. Due to social advocacy, people are prompted to collect data that best supports their preconceived notions. This data is obtained from unrepresentative groups. New measures are collected, and after a span of ten years, they are surprised at how the “statistics” have grown. The whole process is a simple multiplication of erroneous assumptions and data mutation as the media and other publications carry forward the mutation. The book conclusively teaches us how to understand and become better users of statistical information.
Best, J. Damned Lies and Statistics: Untangling Numbers from the Media, Politicians, and Activists. 1st edition. University of California Press; 2001.