5 comments on “Misleading Statistics Reporters Want You To See

  1. I read the article. I don’t see any foundation for criticism. The author does not hold out the numbers you reference as calculated from any sample. She just cites the hard number. Where is the “misleading?” I only see misleading here. So you didn’t wet your pants in fear. What would you do if you ended up as one of those people? Say: “O, well. Mistakes happen.”

    How can you compare Toyota building cars to doctors operating on people? Are you saying it is hypothetcially acceptable for that one doctor to remove that one patient’s wrong body part that one time?

    If the only acceptable rate of error is 0%, then 1 is too many. It doesn’t matter what percentage of the total that 1 failure is. Is that the case here? No idea. But I see no intellectual dishonesty on the part of the reporter.

    Also, it looks like you just divided 7.1M procedures divided 50 states.

    To be more figures-honest, you’d probably want to take Washington’s population as a percentage of the nation’s population and use that number to determine how many procedures are performed in Washington every year. If you just took 7.1M procedures divided by 50 states for North Dakota, for example, then a huge percentage of the population would have had a procedure in that year, whereas 142,000 in CA would be ridiculously low.

    If this is supposed to be a blog about misleading statistics, I would think you’d want to be as accurate as possible when trying to debunk them.

  2. The story lays out the statistics as straightforwardly as possible. Nowhere do I see words like “alarming” or “terrifying” or even suggesting an unusual level of malpractice. The point is simply that it happens, and the hospitals want to keep it secret. A valid, even-handed story. I would guess if someone operated on the wrong body part of you or your loved one you’d find the number far more significant.

    Sure, media-bashing is fun, but you’re way off base here.

  3. Patrick, in the article she starts off by citing raw numbers, which are rarely ever useful, and then leads into a politician talking about how something must be done. To me, at worst, that’s an inflammatory use of statistics for a purpose. At best, it’s ignorance of the effects of one’s words.

    How can I compare Toyota building cars to doctors operating on people? Because doctors are people and are imperfect. So, no, I’m not saying that it’s hypothetically okay, I’m saying it’s actually okay. People make mistakes.

    That’s a good point about dividing 7.1MM by 50. However, I have to use what data is available. Also, WA is an average-size state so the estimation isn’t too bad.

  4. BobH, I didn’t say she uses words like “alarming” or “terrifying”. She just creates the effect by citing misused statistics and then seemingly calling for legislation.

    For instance, she doesn’t talk about what it means to operate on the wrong body part. By not offering up a definition of the measure, how do we know what could potentially be included? She doesn’t even cite examples.

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