Misused Statistics – Religion and Politics

Kurt's Religion and Politics

20201111 Misused Statistics – The Daily Summation
20201111 Misused Statistics – The Daily Summation Podcast

I’ve spent a reasonably good part of my adult life, working in jobs where it was necessary for me to have a reasonable knowledge of data. You can be sure that includes a moderate amount of interpreting what statistics do say, and what they don’t indicate.

I recently saw a post on one of my social media accounts, that made it clear to me, far from everyone has had the need to learn how deal reasonably with such information.

I want to be clear, where in certain regards, my understanding of data centered facts, can be argued to be something close to expert, in other ways, that’s certainly not the case.

To give an example of how important it is to understand what you’re able to glean, when viewing statistics, it’s clear perusing the factual data surrounding COVID-19, that much of the action, as well as the policies put in place surrounding its existence, have been serious overkill.

I could go on to cite the data in question, but that isn’t the intended purpose of this article. Rather, the thrust of this little set of scribblings, is to talk about the idea that, without serious research and consideration, it’s often not true, one can look at data in meaningful and useful ways.

Another example of this, was found in the social media post, mentioned above.

It’s obvious the individual meant well in the statement they made (which was actually a repost of what someone else had put out there). That said, the point made about the thing discussed, shows how statistical data can be pretty readily abused.

The basic idea posited, is that one in ten children is born prematurely. The information presented lines up with the Data found on the website of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

A quick review of the page titled Premature Birth though, gives us the following information: “Premature (also known as preterm) birth is when a baby is born too early, before 37 weeks of pregnancy have been completed.

Considering that the accepted normal term for a human pregnancy is at most 40 weeks (various writeups say 39), that means the definition of prematurity used by the CDC, involves cases where children are born as little as two weeks early.

I’m pretty sure one of my children can be considered premature by that standard. He’s Moderately (Level 2) Autistic, but other than that, appears to have been born healthy.

The point here is simple. Unless you wish to argue his autism diagnosis can be blamed on premature birth, the fact that he was born early, is a consideration bearing little to no weight.

I want to be clear in what I’m saying here. For those having children born at 21, or 22 weeks, or even younger, there’s little doubt they have a hard—one might even argue desperate—road ahead of them.

It can’t be denied, that folks who have children a month or more prior to the anticipated normal delivery date, may well suffer more than a little consternation as well. In fact, I’m sure in some circumstances, it can be downright devastating.

Though that’s true, I would be very surprised to hear many such folks, have more than a fleeting recollection of their child’s early birth, even a couple of years after it happened.

The fly in the ointment come to this statistic then, is this.

Where it’s true that one in ten babies is born prematurely, that information is not sufficient to form opinions, on the seriousness of such a claim. Instead, it’s necessary to possess additional data based on the potentially varying ages and health outcomes, for the children in question, to do so.

In order to seriously talk about this topic, it would be necessary to do a great deal more work, than I’m willing to do for this article.

None of this negates the horribly stressful, and difficult time, new parents (most particularly mothers, but fathers too), go though as a result of more serious instances of premature birth.

That said, because the data is relatively vague, it’s a completely reasonable thing to ask more revealing questions like, “Out of the one in ten babies born prematurely, how many suffer even remotely seriously problematic health outcomes?

Doing this is not a sign of callousness. Rather, it helps to pinpoint the severity of the issue in question.

In the same way that people concentrating on the number of COVID-19 infections, fail to discuss the number of deaths, or even serious and lasting health outcomes attributable to the virus, considering the number of premature births simply doesn’t answer the questions, that can and should be asked about the well being of the babies in question.

What makes this worse, is that in employing statistical sleight of hand, people are making things that shouldn’t be matters of great concern, seem substantially more so, than they actually are. And when people figure this out, they often wrongly fail to attribute to those actually dealing with real and meaningful issues, the hardship those folks, have truly endured.

Further, because the data used to support their claims can be seen to be somewhat disingenuous, others who’re dealing with issues that are more serious and widespread, are seen as less significant than the ones having had their data inflated.

You have to understand too, it may appear that I’m intending on picking on a couple of cases only, but that’s not at all the case.

This type of statistical inflation and malfeasance, is a problem in many cases, and causes more significant things to be ignored on a regular and ongoing basis—and we’re not just talking about health related situations, either.

So how do we deal with this? It’s certain that many spreading unintentional falsehoods likely aren’t even in on the game.

About the only thing I can tell you, I’ve said many times before. Do your due diligence. Anything less, and you’re likely to be an unwilling dupe, of those spreading misinformation.

My final word is this. Please, please, I beg you, be very careful when presenting data given to you by others. Not taking the time to confirm what you see and hear, is likely one of the leading causes of muddied waters, surrounding things like understanding which health conditions are the most impactful. Take the time, do the research. If you’re not willing to do that, best to remain silent, at least where specific claims are made.

Thanks for reading and may your time be good.

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