Monday, October 24, 2011

Statistics, Conclusions, and Evidence

"Anyone who looks through enough statistics will eventually find numbers that seem to confirm a given vision. Often, the same set of statistics contains other numbers that seem to confirm diametrically opposite conclusions. The same is true of anecdotal ‘facts.’ That is why evidence is different from mere data, whether numerical or verbal.

Scientific evidence, for example, comes from systematically determining–in advance–what particular empirical observations would be seen if one theory were correct, compared to what would be seen if an alternative theory were correct. Only after this careful and painstaking analysis has been completed can the search begin for facts that will differentiate between the competing theories. Seldom is this approach used by those who believe in the vision of the anointed. More typically, they look through statistics until they find some numbers that fit their preconceptions, and then cry, ‘Aha!’ Others with different views can, of course, do the same thing. But only those with the prevailing views are likely to be taken seriously when using such shaky reasoning". -Thomas Sowell (1)


 (1)  The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy, Thomas Sowell, 1985, page 32

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