Lies, Darn Lies, and Modern Media Statistics

Most of us have utilized our unfettered, nearly-instantaneous access to an nigh-infinite amount of information to make sure we never learn a darn thing we don’t want too.

Andrew Donaldson

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Timo Newton-Syms from Helsinki, Finland and Chalfont St Giles, Bucks, UK, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

“Statistics,” the late great Vin Scully quipped, “are used much like a drunk uses a lamp post: for support, not illumination.”

We are adrift in the mathematical body of science that pertains to the collection, analysis, interpretation or explanation, and presentation of data: Statistics, in the vernacular, or stats in the slang. No people in all of human history have had more unfettered, nearly-instantaneous access to an nigh-infinite amount of information as we do in our present dispensation of time.

West Virginians especially hear about statistics. For decades now, how many headlines, think pieces, commentaries, or news items have revolved around the latest statistics of how West Virginia is ranked 48th in this, 49th in that, or 50th out of 50 states in some other thing? Or conversely, how the latest census data showed the Mountain State as number one, or more truthfully the only, state to lose population. Stats on health care, education, income, poverty, opioid use, business environment, on and on and on goes the list of numbers and data meant to impart some great tidbit of knowledge.

Recently, Amanda Hernandez for Stateline reported that only 45% of West Virginia’s law enforcement agencies were reporting their statistics to the federal database, “which means less than half of the police departments in their states submitted 2022 crime data to the FBI.” Statistics such as crime data are needed for far more than just accurate, effective policy making, but greatly influence how the armed enforcement wing of the government and the criminal justice system deals with the greater population.

Healthcare statistics will affect everyone at some point, since such data is used by everything from insurance companies to set rates and benefits to hospital systems for coding, billing, and administrative planning. While the medical care you and your loved ones receive is of the utmost importance and pressing need to you and your family, much of that care will be dictated by the…

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Andrew Donaldson

Writer. Mountaineer diaspora. Veteran. Managing Editor @ordinarytimemag on culture & politics, food writing @yonderandhome, Host @heardtellshow & other media