how
 to
LIE using
 math

Numbers Don't Lie

But they can be misread, skewed, and manipulated

Don't let someone else's personal quests cloud your judgments. Here, I have outlined an instance where someone uses a factual statistic to support a false conclusion.

Critical thinking is a vital skill for the Information Age

Thanks to the internet, anyone can say anything and get worldwide exposure. Make sure your information source is legitimate and unbiased. Be your own fact-checker.


As human animals, fear is our most powerful motivator

As citizens of a first world country, we all receive some level of education and generally trust in science, as its advances over the centuries have led to benefits ranging from space exploration (we send ROBOTS to MARS and they send back pictures!) to everyday conveniences (air conditioning and automobiles!), and longer life expectancies.

What if you could warp our default trust in science to create fear?

The result is control over those who believe you. Wherever there is ignorance and fuzzy thinking, this is easily accomplished.

This is Mike Adams. He believes a lot of false and dangerous ideas and spreads them in order to sell his books and other products. Just as cosmetics companies make you feel ugly to persuade you to buy wrinkle cream, Mike Adams makes you feel afraid (of agribusiness, of the government, of the whole of modern medicine) so you can buy his solutions. He does not claim to be a doctor, nutritionist, nor to have any educational qualifications whatsoever. See for yourself.


People trust numbers

Here is how Mike Adams misinterpreted statistics to make his point. When there was an outbreak of mumps in New York & New Jersey in February of 2010, he said:

"77 percent of those infected had been vaccinated"

Infection Rate

Vaccinated (77%)
Not Vaccinated (23%)





That's a true statement. Check the CNN article. Scary, right?
How can this be?
Does it make you question the value of vaccines?

He uses this statistic as proof that "vaccines may actually increase your risk of disease" and there is a vast conspiracy in place to take your money and poison your children.

Don't react yet.
Let's take a closer look.


Here's the whole truth

CNN only showed you a piece of the data, and Mike didn't find it necessary to do any research. Many readers will jump to the conclusion he wants them to, but some will rightly feel that something doesn't jive. Because the CNN article didn't provide enough information to see the whole picture, I looked up this CDC report on the outbreak and Skeptico's find of this vaccination coverage chart which gives far more hard data. As it turns out...

The non-vaccinated were 8.3 times more likely to be infected

While it's true that the majority of infected people were vaccinated, it's important to remember that an even greater majority of the general population is vaccinated.
Let's compare the percentage of vaccinated people with the percentage of infected people.

Infection Rate (NY & NJ)

Vaccinated (77%)
Not Vaccinated (23%)

Vaccination Rate (NY & NJ)

Vaccinated (97%)
Not Vaccinated (3%)

If the vaccine was not effective, these two charts would look the same. However, the facts clearly show that a disproportionately large amount of non-vaccinated people became infected. Clearly, the MMR vaccine prevents mumps.

How I used the statistics

Of the 1,521 total cases, vaccination status is known for 1,115 patients: 75% of them had been fully vaccinated (CDC MMWR, Update: Mumps Outbreak, paragraph 6). I used the figure for infected people who were fully vaccinated, meaning they had both required injections of the MMR vaccine. The percentage of fully-vaccinated and partly-vaccinated is 88%, still greater than the percentage of the infected people who are fully vaccinated. The CNN article gives the figure of 77% for the percentage of infected people who were vaccinated. This 2% difference (from the CDC Report's 75%) could be due to incomplete data at the time of reporting or any number of legitimate reasons.

This chart shows vaccination rates by state. Because this case involved many people from two states - New York and New Jersey - I averaged their two rates to end up with the 97.3% figure.

Sources

Update: Mumps Outbreak --- New York and New Jersey, June 2009--January 2010, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, CDC
More than 1,000 get mumps in New York, New Jersey since August, CNN
Coverage Estimates for School Entry Vaccinations, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, CDC
Mumps outbreak spreads among people who got vaccinated against mumps, Mike Adams, NaturalNews
Mike Adams Fails Again, Skeptico
How to win friends and influence people, Angela, The Skeptic Detective

Who wrote this?

An average person with a personal interest in the progress of mankind and the dispassionate evaluation of information for the purpose of finding truth. I am not a doctor or a statistician. You can reach me at emily@empul.se. PLEASE contact me if there are any points in this presentation that don't make sense to you. I want this to be as comprehensible as possible.

Further reading (and watching)

Penn & Teller: Bullshit! - Season 4, Episode 9, "Numbers" Part 1 of 3, Part 2 of 3, Part 3 of 3

Ethics of vaccine research, Nature (the most respected scientific journal in the world)
    Hint: Vaccination trials are tricky. "Although challenge studies can be scientifically valuable and efficient, there is something disquieting about deliberately infecting someone..." See also: "A placebo control is acceptable when no effective vaccine is available, although it is ethically important to integrate other known preventive strategies, such as health education, into both arms of a vaccine trial." In other words, scientists don't want people to get sick. They don't think it's right to expose someone on a placebo to a disease for which there is already a vaccine.
    Mike Adams thinks it should be done: "there has never been a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study published on the mumps vaccine in humans." Here, the first paragraph under "The lies of the CDC."