â€œThere are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.â€
This quote from Mark Twain is accurate; they are often used to lie to the public because most people do not understand how statistics work. The world is littered with statistics, and the average person is bombarded with five statistics a day. They can be misleading and sometimes deliberately distorting.
“Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.”
Fundamental to the mathematics of probability is the requirement for conditional probabilities to be independent of each other, such as dice rolls or coin flips. If they are not independent, the math stops working and the answers stop making sense. However, a lot of statistics are worked out at a distance from the core events, so working out if the results are valid can be next to impossible.
In this enlightening TED Talk, Mona Chalbi discusses bad statistics. After working for a humanitarian organization, Chalabi saw how important data was, but also how easily it could be used by people with their own specific agendas. Since then, her work for organizations like Transparency International and The Guardian has had one goal: to make sure as many people as possible can find and question the data they need to make informed decisions about their lives.