Statistics - their value

Juli Kuhl (
Sat, 31 Aug 1996 11:01:17 -0400 (EDT)

IMHO from the far corner of the room... the older I get the less impressed
I am with statistics as a form of validating one's
opinions/thoughts/beliefs. By no means is it wise to totally ignore them;
many errors are carried on for generations because we refused to listen to
those who saw things differently.

But at the same time I've seen stats misused so many, many times in some
critically important - even essential - issues that I tend to relegate
them to the category of merely "interesting" or "curious".

Here's a thot or two for my position these days: you shared the
percentages of those who voted for one position v. those who voted for
another as evidence of the probable position of "the church". 'scuse
me, but I think the vote merely shows the opinions of those who took
the time to vote, not those who belong to the Body itself. And most
certainly not the opinions of the Body as a whole (the church universal).

See what I mean? It's something like Ann Landers saying there was an
overwhelming response (to a bizarre situation) and implying that the
attitude of the American public has changed. Well, I think her experience
merely reveals that those who took the time to write felt strongly enough
about the issue to let their opinions be known and that these people
differ from past public opinions as expressed or identified.

One more example: a recent AP story claimed "the majority of parents in
NJ are in favor of sex education in public schools" citing a survey of 700
people. I don't mind telling you that I went after the newspaper for
running such a misrepresentation on the front page. To state that the
"majority of parents" believe a certain way when there are more than
7,890,000 residents in NJ (as of 1995) was a gross and serious
distortion & bad reporting. (How many of those seven million are parents
I have no idea but we can assume there are quite a few, and we can also
assume a significant portion do NOT think sex education to kindergartners
is a good idea, nor is a demonstration of oral application of a purple
condom appropriate for elementary students... actual cases, not

Well, I've certainly gone off course a bit, especially for a scientific
discussion group; but I do want to disagree w/the weight that seems
given to percentages only because it is disproportionate.

So is there a "silent majority"? I am convinced there is. Statistics
don't seem to acknowledge the very great numbers of people not
contacted... which is certainly logical and reasonable. There's a huge
difference between a survey and a census. And that's why the "scientific
method" of repeated experiments carefully controlled has value.
Statistics of those who vote are not of much value to me anymore.

There's also a risk of drawing conclusions from data based on one's
interpretation (frame of reference, filter, bias, presuppositions,
whatever you want to call it, as derived from training - other people's
ideas we accept as our own - and/or experience). I see more and more
misinterpretation of data, some of it based on statistics. For
example, the media is upset these days because the public "isn't
interested" in political conventions anymore (evidenced by low ratings)
when the real problem may very well be that viewers are discouraged (some
might be disgusted) with the terrible slant (bias) of the media. The data
(low ratings) have been interpreted incorrectly, something quite common in
our world, I guess. We can probably all cite additional examples from our
chosen fields of study. Just my perspective on the significance of using
statistics to give credibility to our arguments.

Kinda wordy. Sorry! Have a good one!

Juli Kuhl
social worker/jail chaplain/journalist


On 30 Aug 1996, John W. Burgeson wrote:

> Bill Dozier writes, in part: >>To be more accurate, "b" should read "practically
> all," or at least "an overwhelming majority of" rather than "many." This is not
> to quibble with point "a," but to state it the way that you have implies
> something close to an even split when there is nothing close to it. >>
> Appreciate the point -- but I'm unsure of its relevance.
> An overwhelming majority of Christians probably believe in the young earth,
> also.
> In our denomination (PCUSA), among those with a vote last summer, the split was
> 57% to 43% on the question of granting ordination. Which implies a lower/higher
> split on the question as I posed it.
> Episcopalians, Methodists and Lutherans are all wrestling with the same issue.
> In the absence of poll data, which would be difficult to get meaningfully, I
> don't have any real feeling for what the split is. Which is why I tried to
> specify it non-quantitatively. I probably should have used "some" in place of
> "many."
> Peace
> Burgy