statistics and misinformation

My statistical life

Tuesday 17 October 2023 10:52 AM

I somehow managed a 'pass' in the required semester unit on statistics in my psych major in 1978, two years after graduating as a veggie mathematician in HSC.
So suffice to say I'm no statistician. But I have learned one small lesson in statistics in the last decade, from enduring climate science denial, covid pandemic denial, covid vaccine denial, and now indigenous support for the Voice denial. 
The skill is largely in engaging both raw numbers (volume) and proportions (or whatever the geek lingo for that is). If you want something resembling a true report of life or the world, you need to balance the two in sync, each providing context for the other. If by contrast you want to sell massive porkies as the truth, to support your political ideology or promote your preferred conspiracy theory, you pick one of them to the exclusion of the other. Which one to go with varies between subjects, and that's where it might be handy to phone a friend who watches Sky News.
So a couple of examples you can try at home. You want to convince the cosmos that receiving a covid vaccine increases one's chances of being hospitalised or worse. What you do is pluck out a trusty proportion such as 95% of patients in ICU were vaccinated, being sure to avoid any inference that the total numbers in hossy, ICU or the morgue are a fraction of what they were the previous year when there were no vaccinated people. Pretty nifty, eh? Even a dunce could manage that one.
Second practical example. You want to prove beyond all doubt that the proposed Voice was never wanted by aboriginals, apart from the handful of radical left activist commies who are mates with the UN and the Chinese and know Chairman Mao's 'Little Red Book' by heart. Too easy. You find an electorate (be sure it's the right one; even two or three if you can) where the aboriginal population is among the highest in the country and the 'No' vote is right up there too. Just don't take too much note of how big a proportion of the electorate is aboriginal. A child could do it.
And that's how you keep the right stuff true.