Seeing as it’s Election Day, I fully expect to be bombarded for the next day—as I have been for the past three months—with the results of a zillion different polls, projecting the outcome of the election to within plus or minus a hundred percentage points.
Considering this, I thought it only fitting to spend this week reading a book about how unreliable the vast majority of our statistics are. As humans, we’re exceedingly willing to believe something like “By 2022, there will be no more natural blondes on the planet,” simply because there’s a number involved, and numbers make things seem reliable. Watch: 84% of people who read my blog gain at least 12 IQ points within one hour. It’s the truth! Didn’t you see the numbers?
Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception, by Charles Seife, only came out this year, so it’s chock full of not only historical examples of misleading stats, but a wealth of current ones. In the introduction, I was even promised the real truth about the 2000 presidential election, which would supposedly be displeasing to Bush, Gore, and the American people (I mean, what’s that about? Did Pat Buchanan actually win? Ralph Nader?)
It should be noted that I maintain, for work, a Twitter account devoted almost exclusively to disseminating these types of shaky statistics. Which makes this book all the more interesting. Unfortunately, there’s little chance I’ll change my ways, no matter how bad Seife makes me feel for playing on the gullibility of the masses. After all, 100% of my tweets are either true or false. And that, my friends, is the truth.