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CRIM 2653
Anita Lam

Damned Lies and Statistics Verification and Bad Statistics • “bad statistics live on; they take on lives of their own” (Best, pg. 4) – once a study that has been published, the numbers that justify the claim live on, regardless if they are true or not • Language and grammatical errors • Putting things in Context—in real life scenario Paradox of Statistics • We are suspicious of statistics, we think we are being manipulated in some way —the more knowledge the state has over you, the more power they have • In some ways it is impossible for the untrained eye to distinguish “good” from “bad” statistics • Yet we rely on statistics to describe significant trends in our complex societies— without them we could hardly define social problems—the state relies on stats to put policies in order to prevent social problems. One of the ways the state tracks your existence Neutrality • Assumption: people accept statistics on face value without asking how the numbers are verified • Paradigm: We can’t escape that conceptions of “truth” • Agendas (pg. 7): people, states, advocacy groups compile stats for a reason – “big numbers means there is a big problem” (pg. 9) Two Purposes of Social Statistics 1. Public Purpose: give an accurate and reliable description of society and social trends 2. Hidden: political agendas. 1. Statistics provide prima facie evidence in favor of particular point of view; they become ammunition in political struggles 2. Hidden behind claim that “numbers don’t lie” (13) 3. Best points out that people use statistics to support particular points of view, and it would be naïve to accept numbers as accurate, without examining who is using. This is particularly important when one remembers that statistical research has, until recently, been the in the provenance of the state. We must ask ourselves: who is using the numbers and why? (pp. 12-13). Defining Social Problems as Human Problems • Statistics can be deceiving in the sense that they are impersonal: i.e., they externalize social problems • Social problems are the products of what people do: – Originate in the social arrangements in which we live – Socially Constructed • There is a tendency to think of social problems like ecological disasters (earthquakes and tidal waves), as if they existed entirely independently of human action, but this is a fallacy (pg. 14). • There has been many years of theorizing about what constitutes “socially constructed” knowledge, and it far too complex for our needs, but Best does point out that the process of defining a state of affairs as a problematic and using statistics to justify that claim is at the core of the social construction of knowledge. Roughly speaking, it means only that the description of a state of affairs and the inferences to normative solutions on the basis of description are themselves the products of investigations by interested parties: activists, policy- makers, politicians, and the media. There is no neutrality in the construction of these kinds of descriptions. Best (pg. 15) describes it as a kind of public drama. Problem Promoters • Best suggests that it is helpful to think social problems and their solutions as advocated for and against by “problem promoters” (pg. 15) – People who have a vested interest in describing a state of affairs in a given way: • Government organizations • Activists, • Media, • Private Interests such as Corporations • Best defines the “problem promoters” this way: “when we become aware of—and st
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