Saturday, November 29, 2008

Curious about Statistics: How Do You Feel about Them? Are They Useful and/or Dependable?

Our scientific age demands that we provide definitions, measurements, and statistics in order to be taken seriously. Yet most of the important things in life cannot be precisely defined or measured. Can we define or measure love, beauty, friendship, or decency, for example?” - Dennis Prager, American journalist

Definition of Statistics: The science which has to do with the collection and classification of certain facts respecting the condition of the people in a state, their health, their longevity, domestic economy, arts, property, and political strength, their resources, the state of the country, etc., or respecting any particular class or interest; especially, those facts which can be stated in numbers, or in tables of numbers, or in any tabular and classified arrangement. The branch of mathematics which studies methods for the calculation of probabilities.

All right, I will come clean. My first college degree was in mathematics. And, I did find statistics to be fascinating – especially in the area of probabilities. However, I also came to the conclusion that statistics could easily be skewed to give credence to results and/or ideas that a perpetrator wanted to use – as Prager states – “to be taken seriously.”

So often in the areas of health, fitness and business, we are bombarded by questionable statistics. Therefore, I thought it would be fun to check out our experts to learn how they feel and have felt about statistics. Almost every quotation I encountered either made tongue-in-cheek humorous statements or questioned the truth and/or validity of statistics.

The only quotation that was positive was made by the Irish dramatist, George Bernard Shaw who wrote, “It is the mark of a truly intelligent person to be moved by statistics.” Was he being serious or sarcastic?

Anyway, here are some of the other quotations:
  • Smoking is one of the leading causes of statistics.” - Fletcher Knebel, American author
  • There are two kinds of statistics, the kind you look up and the kind you make up.” - Rex Stout, American writer
  • You cannot feed the hungry on statistics.” - David Lloyd George, English statesman
  • He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp posts - for support rather than for illumination.” - Andrew Lang, Scottish poet
  • Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable.” - Mark Twain, American writer
  • There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” - Benjamin Disraeli, British statesman

And, yes, a few more with a bit of truth:

  • Consumers are statistics. Customers are people.” - Stanley Marcus, American businessman
  • Statistics is the grammar of science.” - Karl Pearson, British mathematician
  • In ancient times they had no statistics so they had to fall back on lies.” - Stephen Leacock, Canadian economist
  • Statistics suggest that when customers complain, business owners and managers ought to get excited about it. The complaining customer represents a huge opportunity for more business.” - Zig Ziglar, American author
  • Life is not just a series of calculations and a sum total of statistics, it's about experience, it's about participation, it is something more complex and more interesting than what is obvious.” - Daniel Libeskind, Polish architect
  • The Governments are very keen on amassing statistics - they collect them, add them, raise them to the nth power, take the cube root and prepare wonderful diagrams.” - Josiah Stamp, British businessman

So, how do you feel about all of the statistics that are being tossed about – especially now about the economy?

Just remember and consider the following thoughts:

  • I can prove anything by statistics except the truth.” - George Canning, English statesman
  • Like dreams, statistics are a form of wish fulfillment.” - Jean Baudrillard, French sociologist
  • The statistics on sanity are that one out of every four Americans is suffering from some form of mental illness. Think of your three best friends. If they're okay, then it's you.” - Rita Mae Brown, American writer
  • Statistics are no substitute for judgment.” – Henry Clay, American statesman

Create your own statistics. Have a healthy, wise and wealthy week!