Bad Numbers. Bad Assertions.

Swamped. Brief notes:

Image result for incredulous face
I have my doubts.

A. Slipped up and listened to the news over the radio on the drive in today. Heard the assertion that the stock market is down due to uncertainty over the China trade situation. Such single causes are routinely proposed for whatever the markets do every day.

I am amazed that people can say stuff like this with a straight face. Thousands if not millions of individuals and institutions make buy and sell decisions on stock exchanges every hour. Many if not most of these trades reflect the workings of more or less sophisticated strategies worked out months or years or lifetimes in advance of any individual event. Even more basic, it’s people making decisions in private.  Fundamentally, that’s what a market is. Buyers buy at what sellers are willing to sell for; sellers sell for what buyers are willing to pay. Yet we accept that there is *a* cause to whatever the market is doing at the moment?

B. Saw a claim that the current administration is evil and stupid for wanting to create a database of social security numbers for all food stamp recipients, to fight double-dipping across state lines, since less than 1% of recipients in fact double dip.

I don’t know anything about this issue, whether it’s big enough to warrant this or any action. I sort of think not. But I have to wonder: lacking precisely the data such a database would collect, how would one come up with that “less than 1%” claim? You send out a bunch of sociology students to hang out at supermarkets asking people paying with food stamps if they double dip? Or what? Seems a totally made up number, that, given the political motivations for believing it, will soon attain to Scriptural levels of certainty. If it hasn’t already.

C. The human capacity to not mentally break in half from the whiplash caused by snapping from one extreme position to its opposite continues to amaze. The current manifestation: the claim that Trump was going to cause WWIII and the concomitant nuclear holocaust by being mean to North Korea has been replaced with nary a pause by the claim that the ending of hostilities in Korea after 70 years is really no big deal (1), dancing in the streets by actual Koreans notwithstanding. These positions seem to be spouted by exactly the same people more often than not.

Um, what? I’m reminded of cult leaders, who keep the loyalty and even love of their followers right up to and past drinking the cool-aide. It seems nothing so mundane as reality can dissuade the True Believers. Me? I share the evident joy of the Koreans, who seem to me to be in the best position to know what’s going on.

  1. The conspiracy theories that have mushroomed up around Trump’s success put fake moon-landing and flat earthers to shame.

Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

10 thoughts on “Bad Numbers. Bad Assertions.”

  1. Regarding B: I remember once being told that Blacks are convicted for a certain crime more than Whites, even though both commit it at the same rates. My thought was “Wait, you have a means of knowing the demographics of people who have *gotten away with crime*? Have you considered sharing this information with the FBI?”

    1. Yep. Sometimes, they’re just more or less willfully misrepresenting what they know, like what they know is that blacks go to jail more for crimes than whites but they add the committed at the same rate because it’s dogma. Often it seems they just don’t understand the issues involved in comparing one set of data to another, such as in comparing infant mortality across nations. Other times, they just make it up. Sometimes, it’s a little of all three.

      1. That’s kind of the thing that bug{-ged,-s} me about claims of rape statistics that “X% are unreported” then how do you know? It’s not like “We only stop Y amount of drugs at the border” where you know exactly what was stopped at the border – and can see at least some of what reaches “the street.”

      2. It’s the hard numbers – not anecdotally, lots of rape doesn’t reported, but 73.1% or something. The first is plausible; the second is ridiculous.

      3. I think you’re the first person I’ve ever seen exercise any sort of skepticism about percentages and actually considered work-arounds for things like “percent of drugs stopped on border.”

        The three locations I know of for identifying amount is the border, in transit inside of the US with clear indication of origin, and drug busts. Sometimes there is an estimate of how much is being sold based on observation.

        Obviously, these tactics won’t work for rape…..

      4. The thing that won’t fit into headlines and rarely makes it into the article is just how much is pure statistics – counting numbers, addition, division across a population – and probabilistic analysis, which contains further mathematical and philosophical assumptions and are at best projections based on samples. Often, hidden in there are outrageous assumptions that force the desired conclusions.

        This is of course assuming against the evidence that the reporting body is playing fair.

      5. It’s drawn from the crime victim survey. FBI stats go by arrest, the NCVS goes by victim so then sociologists compare the two to get a rough idea.

      6. That’s all fine and good, but at best, as you note, you’re getting a rough idea. Plus, this methodology raises more questions than it answers, such as: is the sample of victims who 1) are willing to self-identify as victims and 2) willing to talk about it representative of victims in general? Are such self-identified non-reporting victims likely to be telling the truth? How does one extrapolate from this data set to victims in general? And so on. A very rough idea indeed.

  2. Heh, the real reason B is opposed is because we know there is massive identity theft for fraud going on in food stamps, based off of who gets caught in random audits.

    If you add in SSN tracking, that makes it even easier to catch them. And will really burn places like California….

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