Finding the Truth behind the Headlines

About 100 years ago, the writer and humorist Mark Twain said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” You can find a study to support just about anything you believe. And if you can’t, statistics are easy to manipulate, massage, shoehorn, and just plain distort. In this article, MHN advisor Armin […]

Finding the Truth behind the Headlines

statistics

Dear Mr. Dad: Like you, I enjoy reading about new research findings in health and parenting. But I get really frustrated when what’s in the headlines isn’t always what’s in the actual research. How can I find the truth?

A: You’ve hit on one of my biggest pet peeves. As Mark Twain said about 100 years ago, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” You can find a study to support just about anything you believe. And if you can’t, statistics are easy to manipulate, massage, shoehorn, and just plain distort. Here are a few examples.
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An important reality check about kidnapping

Amber alerts pop up on freeway signs and interrupt radio and television programming. We hear about Polly Klaas, Adam Walsh, and other children who were kidnapped and murdered. Now it’s Isabel Celis in Tucson, Arizona. Child advocacy groups start talking about the hundreds of thousands of children (usually they cite “every 40 seconds”) who go missing every year, the media runs with the story–often adding in something about how the number is growing–and parents around the country panic.

There is no question that every single missing child is a horrible tragedy, but the numbers and pseudo statistics that get thrown around do more harm than good.

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