Monday, July 27, 2015

Understanding Statistics

Did you know that 64% of all statistics are made up? Including that one. Many people use false statistics to trick others into believing a particular point of view. Even when the data presented to you is technically true, manipulation of what context it is present to you can result in misleading your view of the subject. The decision to add or leave out context when presenting data is a common theme among businesses and organizations trying to support particular positions.

An example of potential misleading statistics is the data set presented within a European Union press release regarding the treatment of municipal waste in the European Union as of 2008. When looking at the graph below, one might think that the countries showing lower landfilled waste are doing a much better job at waste management for the environment. Upon further inspection, we see that there is also an increase in incinerated waste when landfill use goes down. The most potentially misleading part about this graph is that many waste statistics only include household waste, which account for a small fraction of all the waste generated within an area. Therefore the underlying true data may be very different from what is interpreted by the reader.

While this practice is not inherently a bad thing, as some manipulation of data is necessary in order to show what is meant to be shown, without there being an overwhelming amount of information for the reader. I hope that you will inform yourself about how statistics are used and learn how to interpret what graphs are really telling you and thinking past the picture.

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