Friday, February 10, 2006

Statistically speaking

Do you know that more than 30,000 people a day stop by Dizgraceland to string together the pearls of wisdom I am shucking for you? Here's a chart showing weekly hits:

That number is growing by at least 5 percent a week. At this rate, I should have more than 360,000 readers by the end of a year (or more precisely 361,233.1).

That is pretty darned impressive, isn't it? Well, not really. It's a crock of crapola. I made it up, including the chart. I'm lucky if I get a hundred hits a day and most of them are misdirected fans looking for Elvis.

But my pitiful Web traffic isn't the point. The point is how easily people accept statistics as the truth. The problem is that every statistic has an equal and opposite statistic that counters it. I have therefore come to the conclusion that there is no proof for anything.

This may seem like a bold statement, but just google a search for any arguement and you'll find outrageous claims for both sides. What more or less triggered my diatribe on statistics was an episode of Penn and Teller's Bullshit I watched last night about the debate over secondhand smoke.

I began watching the program skeptical that even Penn and Teller could pooh pooh all of the obvious data available that smokers are killing everyone within a 25-foot radius of them with secondhand smoke. But they essentially point out that the only research available citing any data about secondhand smoke was a 1993 EPA report that, according to Penn and Teller, was (pardon the pun) blowing smoke up our preverbial butt. A federal court even ruled that the report was flawed.

Don't get me wrong. I have no love for cigarette smoke. But let's not ban smoking based on bogus statistics. Let's be honest and ban cigarettes because we want to be smug about not being one of the poor addicted people who has to scurry out into the rain to inhale addictive yet satisfying carcinegins.

Every day we are bombarded with statistics stating we should and shouldn't eat eggs, butter, red meat, sugar, flour, cheese, or marbles (I just threw that in). Alcohol is bad for us, but red wine prevents heart disease. Exercise is good for you unless you die of a heart attack while engaged in it. Rubbing a rabbit's foot is good luck (unless you are the rabbit it came from). Eating at McDonalds makes you fat or eating at McDonalds makes you thin.

Let's face it. Statistically speaking, there is no such thing as the truth. At least I'm 99.9 percent sure of that.
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