Cover image for More damned lies and statistics : how numbers confuse public issues
More damned lies and statistics : how numbers confuse public issues
Best, Joel.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Berkeley : University of California Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
xvii, 200 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Missing numbers -- Confusing numbers -- Scary numbers -- Authoritative numbers -- Magical numbers -- Contentious numbers -- Toward statistical literacy?
Reading Level:
1320 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HM535 .B474 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



In this sequel to the acclaimed Damned Lies and Statistics, which the Boston Globe said "deserves a place next to the dictionary on every school, media, and home-office desk," Joel Best continues his straightforward, lively, and humorous account of how statistics are produced, used, and misused by everyone from researchers to journalists. Underlining the importance of critical thinking in all matters numerical, Best illustrates his points with examples of good and bad statistics about such contemporary concerns as school shootings, fatal hospital errors, bullying, teen suicides, deaths at the World Trade Center, college ratings, the risks of divorce, racial profiling, and fatalities caused by falling coconuts. More Damned Lies and Statistics encourages all of us to think in a more sophisticated and skeptical manner about how statistics are used to promote causes, create fear, and advance particular points of view.

Best identifies different sorts of numbers that shape how we think about public issues: missing numbers are relevant but overlooked; confusing numbers bewilder when they should inform; scary numbers play to our fears about the present and the future; authoritative numbers demand respect they don't deserve; magical numbers promise unrealistic, simple solutions to complex problems; and contentious numbers become the focus of data duels and stat wars. The author's use of pertinent, socially important examples documents the life-altering consequences of understanding or misunderstanding statistical information. He demystifies statistical measures by explaining in straightforward prose how decisions are made about what to count and what not to count, what assumptions get made, and which figures are brought to our attention.

Best identifies different sorts of numbers that shape how we think about public issues. Entertaining, enlightening, and very timely, this book offers a basis for critical thinking about the numbers we encounter and a reminder that when it comes to the news, people count--in more ways than one.

Author Notes

Joel Best is Professor and Chair of Sociology and Criminal Justice at the University of Delaware.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

In this sequel to Best's Damned Lies and Statistics 0 (2001), the premise is simple: there are vast quantities of statistics being bandied about in all walks of life, and we frequently rely on them to form our own opinions about things. Often, however, neither we nor the experts understand how those numbers work. "People need to agree about what to count before they can start counting," the author tells us, explaining why different people often disagree about the same statistics. Some journalists say child-abduction cases are up; others say they're down; but no one has bothered to agree on what they mean by child0 or abduction0 . Another problem: news media perpetuate inaccuracies by citing each other's statistics without checking for accuracy. This is why, for example, we keep hearing that 150 people die every year after being hit by falling coconuts. (In fact, there is no such statistic because no one tracks coconut deaths.) The book is packed with helpful tips for understanding statistics, and it even manages to make a usually dull topic entertaining. --David Pitt Copyright 2004 Booklist

Choice Review

People create numbers that presumably describe some event or phenomenon, and other people interpret those numbers. In all of this, mistakes can be and are made. This, apparently, is Best's message. The mistakes include the following: numbers relevant for some issue are missing, in that they do not exist or are ignored; numbers as statistics (i.e., averages, percentages) are confusingly presented; numbers are selected to emphasize some group's concerns, but they unnecessarily scare the public; numbers produced by those otherwise seen as authorities may be suspect; numbers are thought to magically provide definitive answers to important questions, but a careful examination of them leaves one less persuaded; and, finally, different numbers are selected by opposing parties to support their points of view on some controversial issue. Because of these mistakes, Best (sociology, Univ. of Delaware) proposes that more effort be given to teaching statistical literacy. In this reviewer's judgment, this book, like its predecessor, Damned Lies and Statistics (CH, Nov'01, 39-1633), is somewhat inflated. Nevertheless, it is useful in helping readers achieve a better understanding of diverse statistics and the sometimes questionable interpretations that increasingly appear in the various media. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. Most levels/libraries. D. Harper University of Rochester

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Preface: People Countp. xi
1. Missing Numbersp. 1
2. Confusing Numbersp. 26
3. Scary Numbersp. 63
4. Authoritative Numbersp. 91
5. Magical Numbersp. 116
6. Contentious Numbersp. 144
7. Toward Statistical Literacy?p. 170
Notesp. 183
Indexp. 197