3.23.2006

A Statistic

In "A Statistic" on Body Count's 1992 Cop Killer album, Ice-T tells us that, "At this moment there are more black males in prison than in college".

Statistics can be dangerous and manipulative and if you want to fight with me on this I'm sure you can throw this back in my face. Here is my statistic though. Think what you want about it.

In 2002 more children died from malignant neoplasms in the United States than people (adult or child) died from terrorist attacks world-wide in 2004.

I got my data from the CDC's National Vital Statistics Report on Leading causes of death for 2002 and from a 2005 Washington Post article on the release of global terrorism statistics by the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). I used 2002 and 2004 because in my quick search those seemed to be the most recent available data. I did not pick the years because the data supports how I would like people to think about this.

I'm also acutely aware of the danger of putting forth numbers as the primary decision point for making decisions like government funding, where you should donate charitably, how to prioritize legislation, and etc. If this is solely a numbers game then sick kids get left in the cold. So I'm clearly a hypocrite and I want to manipulate you with my numbers and then tell you to ignore all other numbers. So be it.

The next numbers I want to dig up relate to how much money our government spends yearly fighting their "War on Terror" versus how much they allocate to pediatric cancer research.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

It saddens me how easily numbers can be misused both accidentally and purposely.

Tangential, but two of my favorite quotes on the cautions of statistics are:

"Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital." Aaron Levenstein

Homer Simpson: People can come up with statistics to prove anything, Kent. Forfty percent of all people know that. (Episode 1F09 - Homer the Vigilante)

Also, did you know the genius mathematicians before probability was discovered were for the most part a happy group that gambled and drank to great excess and lived long lives. Many of the mathematicians immediately afterward suffered from depression, were poor, and died extremely young, worth noting...

-Shade

Matt Dick said...

Well if they were worth noting, at least that's something...

Cool Hand Luke said...

I knew that anonymous was you, Shade, when you expressed an emotional response to to number abuse. I got a bit of a kick out of that.

Matt Dick said...

Of course you know the answer, but the reason we spend more on terrorism than childhood cancer research is that terrorism run amock changes the culture we have and children getting cancer does not.

What freaks me out is (and I just looked this up), if everyone who went to Titanic gave their ticket price to CureSearch, that organization could run for almost 35 years. Or could triple it's funding for a decade.

Anonymous said...

For the record my comment was directed toward the statistics used by the gov't to allocate $ (and specifically this current administration) and the general misuse of statistics, not toward you.

I am totally comfortable being manipulated when you are up front about it...

If you want to see me get really wound up ask me how I feel about the statement, "4 out of 5 dentists agree..."

-Shade

Blog, MD said...

Your comment is spot-on. The budget for the National Cancer Institute for last year was about $4.8 billion dollars (of which, only a small part is spent specifically on childhood cancers). The latest figures from Iraq show that the government is spending about $4 billion a month. You're absolutely right. Priorities have been seriously upended here.

- Sam Blackman (blogmd.blogspot.com)
- Fellow in Pediatric Oncology
- Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

Cool Hand Luke said...

Thanks, Sam. I had an idea of what those numbers might be but hadn't looked them up. The disparity is even greater than I had imagined.