Friday, December 31, 2010

Not Exactly Rising to the Challenge III

I don't know if I've ever posted anything on New Year's Eve Day before, but there is a first time for everything. I hope God blesses you in the New Year. Psalm 103 is a great place to start remembering again about God's blessings.

Three Lessons for All Christians: Everyone Needs to Be A Careful Consumer of Statistical Arguments

1 ) Show me the original data. When I write blogs for “Wise As Serpents” I try to verify the context and original source of quotes, and also to be informed about original sources of data. There is wisdom in the old saw that there are “lies, damn lies, and statistics.” It’s sad to say but some people cherry pick data, selectively report results, or, unfortunately, just don’t understand what statistical data and tests actually mean.

2 ) Correlation is not causation. Wet streets don’t cause rain. My brain waves don’t actually turn out street lights as I walk my dog at night. And, it may be true that most serial killers have milk in their refrigerator, but outlawing milk probably isn’t going to end a crime wave.

3 ) Selection-bias is one of the most powerful forces for misunderstanding data known to mankind. Suppose we find that students who attend charter schools do better in math than students who attend the local public schools. This doesn’t necessarily mean that charter schools are better at education; it’s possible that students who attend charter schools are in charter schools precisely because they have parents who care more about creating an environment that is favorable to their children getting a good education.

Corollary: Economics is not art appreciation; everybody may be entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to misrepresent the facts (not only even if, but especially if, they are Christians attempting to make a witness to the world).

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