Thursday, May 27, 2010

Made Up Statistics

Not really anything new, and given the sensational subject matter it doesn't surprise me that statistics like this get fabricated and passed around, but stop and think for a moment:
According to the Justice Department, an estimated one million children in the United States are abused yearly in the production of child pornography, a $3 billion business annually.
The appeal to authority doesn't make the obviously false statistic any more true. There are approximately 62.84 million children below the age of 16 living in the United States. The entire market for legal pornography in the U.S. is approximately $12 billion per year. Not surprisingly, there's nothing even close to this claim anywhere on the Justice Department's CEOS subsite.

This is probably one of a handful of subjects where getting the facts wildly wrong is going to be excused by most people with the question, what difference does it make? And if we're honest, everybody gets things wrong at times, and everybody has at times accepted at face value statistics that have absolutely no basis in fact. But I do think the letters editor of a major newspaper has a responsibility to take note of obviously erroneous claims both when deciding which letters to publish and when choosing whether or not to attach a note disclaiming a false statement or presenting an accurate statistic. That is perhaps most important in a context such as this, where the emotional appeal of a statistic is more likely to inspire its acceptance at face value.

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