Figures don't lie, but liars can figure

Monday , April 16, 2018 - 6:00 AM2 comments

I don't remember much of the plane geometry that Mr. (Scott) Wangsgard tried to teach me in the early 1960s at Ben Lomond High School, but I do remember that he often remarked, "Figures don't lie, but liars can figure."

I thought of his saying again when I read John Reynolds’ "clarification" in his April 12 letter, "Data on mass shootings came from Crime Prevention Research Center." In that letter, Reynolds said that he had cited a study published by the Crime Prevention Research Center. That study claims Norway has the highest annual death rate from mass shootings per million people in 16 selected countries, and that the United States is way down the list.

That idea seemed so outrageous that I checked my go-to source for debugging internet myths: Snopes.com. If you want to see how liars can figure, check out the Snopes.com site and type in “Crime Prevention Research Center.” It will point you to the Snopes article, "Does the United States Have a Lower Death Rate From Mass Shootings Than European Countries?" Snopes analyzes the CPRC article written by John Lott, who also runs the CPRC site. Some of you will be better qualified than I am to understand the methods that Lott used to arrive at his conclusion, but my reading suggests that Lott is clearly part of the “liars can figure” gang. Using reasonable methods, the United States is solidly at the top of the list. Only by a very awkward manipulation of the data does Lott put Norway at the top.

We all need to be smart as we consume news these days. If we consistently rely only on sources that confirm our biases, we are in danger of being fooled. And nobody wants to be a fool. Snopes is considered by some to be a “liberal” site, but you can decide yourself whether it’s got this one right after you've read its article.

Alan Yorgason

Plain City

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