Apples and Oranges

This is an example of one of my pet peeves: the careless use of numbers and statistics. In this case, it’s observed that data comparing murder rates over time won’t make any sense unless you account for changes in medical technology. What used to be a murder might today be a prolonged visit to the ICU. Any reported change in murder rates may not mean what you think it does.

This is just one example of careless (or perhaps willfully dishonest) comparisons. Some of my other favorites include:

  • Comparing household incomes when the composition of households has changed dramatically
  • Comparing infant mortality rates when the definitions of “live birth” are quite different
  • Comparing the cost of private and public insurance without accounting for revenue collection costs for government

Careless or willfully misleading? I don’t know.


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