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Stupid Statistics in the News

  1. Dec 20, 2006 #1
    Just read this news story, which conveys the message that the war in Iraq is going so badly, that the suicide rate has doubled. However, this is simply a Poisson distribution, and the values they list do not seem to indicate that the mean value has increased at all in the past 3 years.

    I was just wondering if anyone else has seem some particularly stupid statistics in a news story that they'd like to share.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 20, 2006 #2

    Gokul43201

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  4. Dec 20, 2006 #3
    I have now! :cool:

    There are some gems in there...like the one about a black hole weighing billions of tons... :rolleyes:
     
  5. Dec 20, 2006 #4

    russ_watters

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    Yesterday:
    http://www.usatoday.com/money/economy/inflation/2006-12-19-ppi_x.htm

    Sounds pretty spectacular, but have a look at the graph and see if you can explain why it isn't that big of a deal....
     
  6. Dec 21, 2006 #5

    BobG

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    People always have trouble interpreting statistics.

    If there were a fatal disease that would strike 1 out a 1000 people, and a person decided to get tested for the disease and the test were 99% accurate, and the person tested positive, most people would be pretty certain they were going to die.

    Then again, if you asked people what the average human body temperature was, just about all Americans would get it wrong, while most Europeans would be correct.
     
  7. Dec 21, 2006 #6

    berkeman

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    Is that because most Europeans use, well, THAT kind of body thermometer? I've heard it's much more accurate, but I've been a bit reluctant to use it myself. :rolleyes:
     
  8. Dec 21, 2006 #7

    D H

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    Its because Europeans use the metric system. 37C is easier to remember than 98.6F.
     
  9. Dec 21, 2006 #8

    Hurkyl

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    As I recall, the 98.6° myth is exactly what BobG was mentioning.
     
  10. Dec 21, 2006 #9

    BobG

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    37 C is 36.8 C rounded to two significant digits.

    98.6 F is 37 C converted to Fahrenheit. When you convert a number with only two significant digits to a three digit number, you run into a false sense of accuracy.

    (Technically, Europeans wouldn't be more accurate; they'd be more correct.)
     
  11. Dec 21, 2006 #10

    Moonbear

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    Actually, the problem isn't unit conversion, but old data vs newer data. 37.0 C or 98.6 F was the average body temperature of healthy subject in the first study looking at human body temperature under a range of conditions. That study used a foot long thermometer in the axillary region (under the armpit). http://qjmed.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/95/4/251

    A more recent study, using digital thermometers to measure oral temperature reports a lower average.
    P. A. Mackowiak; S. S. Wasserman; M. M. Levine
    A critical appraisal of 98.6 degrees F, the upper limit of the normal body temperature, and other legacies of Carl Reinhold August Wunderlich
    JAMA, Sep 1992; 268: 1578 - 1580.
    http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/conten...INDEX=0&sortspec=relevance&resourcetype=HWCIT

    And, upon a little further digging, I found this:
    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1511/is_n1_v14/ai_13652010

    Though, in reality, the worst misinterpretation is that people don't recognize the 37 C or 98.6 F measure is average body temperature, not normal body temperature. Normal body temperature is subject to individual variation.
     
  12. Dec 24, 2006 #11

    Ivan Seeking

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    "Ten percent of drivers choose to talk on their cell phones while having accidents" - SNL
     
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