Statistically Speaking

Posted: 31.07.06 in Blogging

I do statistics as part of my Mathematics and Statistics degree course (stands to reason), so what I’m about to say might astound some.

I was born in a deprived area. I was raised in a deprived area. I have poor health and hygiene, and my teeth are appalling. My diet is substandard and I have quite possibly fathered many children before I reached adulthood.

My parents are divorced and I did not have a pet. Therefore I am an unruly child. I regularly missed school and took drugs. I smoke and I drink and I vandalise. I treat my Mum like dirt and she often doesn’t see me for days on end. I have been handed several ASBOs in my area. My school results are extremely poor and I failed to achieve five A*-C grade GCSEs. I left school at 16 and I am unemployed. I am extremely depressed and have attempted suicide.

It isn’t statistics that makes me angry. It’s the incorrect interpretation and misrepresentation. The media would have me as an NHS-resource-sapping juvenile delinquent with no respect or qualifications. I have little use to anyone, and quite frankly I’d be better off not existing. But this is not the case. Over the years I have heard this constant torrent of put-downs and stereotyping regarding my background and it is not fair. Each individual should be evaluated by their own merit.

So while statistics might identify children whose parents are divorced will be five times more likely to smoke, it doesn’t mean that we should immediately expect a higher rate of smokers amongst those children. Instead we should ensure it does not happen. Statistics highlight problems – they do not provide solutions. Solutions are what we need. (But we do still need statistics…)

  1. danny says:

    when i was studying a stats module (which i failed twice) we watched a video (just what you’d expect on a BSc course) where stats were manipulated to such an extent to prove that nuclear power was safer than coal powered stations.

    They actually showed in the documentary that around two hundred people are killed every year by being involved with coal powered stations and none are killed at nuclear powerstations.

    The way they arrived at this was quite ridiculous but it did show that nuclear power is safe (yeah, using something that you have to bury the spent rods underground is really safe)Statistics are often part of the problem.”Alcoholism has been in my family for five generations, I’ve got no chance, the statistics are against me.” Yes you have a chance, don’t drink. Of course, that’s simplifying things a little.

    I believe the ability to change lies within the individual, proper education for all, and the community, not a bunch of figures.

  2. Steve says:

    This is my point. In the example you gave (which is more probability than statistics 😉 ), the interpretation of it is that because your five previous generations were alcoholics, you are going to be an alcoholic. This isn’t necessarily the case. Likewise, because some kid has abused a class C drug such as cannabis, it doesn’t mean we should expect him to abuse a class A drug, such as heroin. The statistics say it is more likely that he will given progress to a class A drug given that he has used cannabis, but it doesn’t pre-ordain him to. It’s the incorrect interpretation.

  3. danny says:

    Absolutely. I know a lot people who have used cannabis for years, including one man of 78 years! and none of them are addicted to heroin or other class A’s as a result.

    As for “which is more probability than statistics”…that is exactly why I failed statistics twice. I really do hate maths, stats and all that standard deviation and chi-square stuff. ;-)As it happens, I don’t need any of that, thank God! It’s painful on the brain. Somehow though, I still have my Simple (never been simple) Statistics book by Frances Clegg, Cambridge Uni Press, 1982.

    I reckon I might burn that tonight.

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