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Friday, December 14, 2012

Are These the Right Statistics?

Not all statistics are created equal. And not all statistics are right for analyzing a given problem. I’m reminding of that today, in the wake of the latest mass shooting. While I have not intention of weighing in on the gun control debate (seriously, I don’t know the right statistics to say much, so I’d be dishonest to try), I do want to warn everyone about what statistics we pay attention to in the coming days and weeks. In particular, I’ve already seen a lot of statistics about violent crime in this country and how it’s down. Which is true, of course. But it’s not necessarily the right set of statistics for mass-shooting prevention. Those statistics include a majority of things that are not mass shootings: robberies, fights, domestic violence, and so forth. And while I can’t say that mass shootings have different root causes and enabling factors than these crimes, I suspect that they do. (If I’m wrong, I’d like to see an analysis that shows that we can lump them all together, anyway.) That being the case, looking at the bulk statistics where the mass-shootings are a small minority probably won’t give us a lot insight into these shootings.

So what should you do? Ask yourself whether you think that the data presented are what you really need to reach the conclusions suggested and, if you can, complain if not.

posted by John Weiss at 19:33  

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