Tag Archive for math misused

Religious Outliers Nonsense (or “Atheists Are Richer Than Religious People If You Take All Poor Atheists Out Of Your Sample”)

Charles Blow’s most recent New York Times op-ed is something of a boon for visualization enthusiasts. He replaces almost his entire article with a visualization. This illustrates that he recognizes power of visual communication to make and reinforce a point in a way that is self-obvious and can stick with the reader better than words.

Unfortunately, he has decided to use data that misleads his audience to such an extent that I can only conclude that he is unconcerned with the truth insofar as it undermines his desired objective.

Blow’s main point is that the US is an outlier in the world because we’re religious but also rich while “religiosity was highly correlated to poverty”.

I’ve reproduced the chart in question below. (Click to enlarge)

image

Now, keep in mind that this is not charting religion as it is listed in the CIA World Factbook, but according to the specific question: “Is religion an important part of your daily life?” That will be important in a little bit.

This chart seems to prove his point. Until you realize what isn’t on the map.

Here is a list of the countries that didn’t manage to make their way onto the map due to the fact that Gallup didn’t poll them:

China – 1.33 billion people, heavily non-religious, poor

North Korea – 22 million people, heavily non-religious, unbelievably poor

Cuba – 11 million people, presumed non-religious, poor

Taiwan – 23 million people, 93% Buddist*, rich (comparable to Japan)

Problem number one – Charles Blow has a duty to inform his audience of these omissions. The countries without data represent nearly 25% of the world population and skew heavily toward non-religious. They are too large and too important to the data set and visual reference to simply ignore. Yet Mr. Blow doesn’t seem interested in mentioning them.

Problem number two – Mr. Blow heavily implies that there is a causal relationship between religiosity and wealth. But (as we all know) correlation doesn’t imply causation. Western European countries (and countries filled with people from Western Europe) are richer, as are developed Asian countries. Eastern European and South American countries are less rich. Middle eastern, and African countries tend to be much poorer. There’s a correlation in geo-political histories here that is stronger than religion.

Of course Mr. Blow could always go to rural India and inform them that their poverty is related to their devotion to Hindu and has nothing to do with British imperialism. Or perhaps to the deep south where he can proclaim to the +90% Christian black population that their economic woes are related to their religious tendencies.

Problem number 3 – But the final problem is the worst one because it involves an outright lie:

Singapore is more religious and richer than the United States. And Mr. Blow didn’t map it. At all.

It’s possible that Mr. Blow is actually so numerically illiterate that he didn’t know he was supposed to tell people about key missing data points. But taking out data that doesn’t align with his point is disgusting manipulation. The end result of his deception (conscious or otherwise) is “If you take out all the poor atheists and take out all the rich religious people, then this pattern emerges…”

Mr. Blow should put Singapore back in to the data set and add a correction to his article that announces how his data set has enormous gaping holes. And he should probably never be allowed to touch charting software again.

* The CIA Factbook has Taiwan listed at 93% Buddhist, but I’m not sure how they would answer the specific question that Gallup asked. I’ve heard some atheists claim Buddhism as an “atheistic religion” (no personal god) so it could be that the citizens of Taiwan wouldn’t say that religion plays a big role. I simply don’t know.

Religious Outliers Nonsense (or "Atheists Are Richer Than Religious People If You Take All Poor Atheists Out Of Your Sample")

Charles Blow’s most recent New York Times op-ed is something of a boon for visualization enthusiasts. He replaces almost his entire article with a visualization. This illustrates that he recognizes power of visual communication to make and reinforce a point in a way that is self-obvious and can stick with the reader better than words.

Unfortunately, he has decided to use data that misleads his audience to such an extent that I can only conclude that he is unconcerned with the truth insofar as it undermines his desired objective.

Blow’s main point is that the US is an outlier in the world because we’re religious but also rich while “religiosity was highly correlated to poverty”.

I’ve reproduced the chart in question below. (Click to enlarge)

image

Now, keep in mind that this is not charting religion as it is listed in the CIA World Factbook, but according to the specific question: “Is religion an important part of your daily life?” That will be important in a little bit.

This chart seems to prove his point. Until you realize what isn’t on the map.

Here is a list of the countries that didn’t manage to make their way onto the map due to the fact that Gallup didn’t poll them:

China – 1.33 billion people, heavily non-religious, poor

North Korea – 22 million people, heavily non-religious, unbelievably poor

Cuba – 11 million people, presumed non-religious, poor

Taiwan – 23 million people, 93% Buddist*, rich (comparable to Japan)

Problem number one – Charles Blow has a duty to inform his audience of these omissions. The countries without data represent nearly 25% of the world population and skew heavily toward non-religious. They are too large and too important to the data set and visual reference to simply ignore. Yet Mr. Blow doesn’t seem interested in mentioning them.

Problem number two – Mr. Blow heavily implies that there is a causal relationship between religiosity and wealth. But (as we all know) correlation doesn’t imply causation. Western European countries (and countries filled with people from Western Europe) are richer, as are developed Asian countries. Eastern European and South American countries are less rich. Middle eastern, and African countries tend to be much poorer. There’s a correlation in geo-political histories here that is stronger than religion.

Of course Mr. Blow could always go to rural India and inform them that their poverty is related to their devotion to Hindu and has nothing to do with British imperialism. Or perhaps to the deep south where he can proclaim to the +90% Christian black population that their economic woes are related to their religious tendencies.

Problem number 3 – But the final problem is the worst one because it involves an outright lie:

Singapore is more religious and richer than the United States. And Mr. Blow didn’t map it. At all.

It’s possible that Mr. Blow is actually so numerically illiterate that he didn’t know he was supposed to tell people about key missing data points. But taking out data that doesn’t align with his point is disgusting manipulation. The end result of his deception (conscious or otherwise) is “If you take out all the poor atheists and take out all the rich religious people, then this pattern emerges…”

Mr. Blow should put Singapore back in to the data set and add a correction to his article that announces how his data set has enormous gaping holes. And he should probably never be allowed to touch charting software again.

* The CIA Factbook has Taiwan listed at 93% Buddhist, but I’m not sure how they would answer the specific question that Gallup asked. I’ve heard some atheists claim Buddhism as an “atheistic religion” (no personal god) so it could be that the citizens of Taiwan wouldn’t say that religion plays a big role. I simply don’t know.

Dick Cheney and “Hundreds of Thousands Of Lives”

I’m currently watching two week old episodes of Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld on Hulu. If you like outrageous, off the wall humor in your news, you really can’t do better than this show. While “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” take familiar cable news concepts and parody them, Gutfeld completely deconstructs those concepts. If he wasn’t so libertarian, media professors would call his show a work of surreal genius. The show may not be as consistently funny as some others, but it is far less safe… you never know where they’re going to go and what they’re going to say when they get there.

Anyway… back to the numbers thing. They were talking about Dick Cheney’s interview with Bob Schieffer in which Cheney (in Greg’s words):

…insisted that enhanced interrogation saved a crapload of lives. That’s right, he said ‘crapload’.

OK, he didn’t, but he should have.

They then show the part where Cheney stated that:

“I am convinced, absolutely convinced, that we saved thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives.”

Now I don’t want to talk about the morality and ethics of enhanced interrogation, a topic about which I can’t even begin to talk intelligently.

But I do know a little something about numbers and I remember that, on 9/11 we were all terrified (or at least I was) when we heard how many people worked in the World Trade Center buildings. The number “50,000” was tossed around a good bit that morning. I was happily surprised when the final toll was drastically revised downward over the several weeks .

Near as I can make it, the only way the Bush administration could have saved “possibly hundreds of thousands” of lives is if they stopped a nuclear attack in a major city. And I’m going to go ahead and say that the burden of proof on them is pretty heavy for something like that.

If you bust six guys drinking beer and talking about nuking LA, you probably didn’t save that many people. If, however, you bust six guys drinking beer and talking about nuking LA… and they have a dozen gas centrifuges in the basement enriching uranium, they’re still miles away from nuking LA, but at least you can make the case that you saved a crapload of lives by busting them.

Take note, I’m not at all against going after potential terrorists. I’m just against using numbers so carelessly that they lose their meaning. The “hundred thousand lives saved” is, as Kevin Godlington stated on the show, lunacy.

As a side note, Kevin Godlington is one of Red Eye’s best contributors. He is a British veteran who provides remarkable insight on the show and also works with military charities to help British and American soldiers deal with combat stress. I’ve had a couple people ask if they could donate to help my pro bono work here. If you’ve ever thought of doing so, donate to Kevin’s charity instead.

Dick Cheney and "Hundreds of Thousands Of Lives"

I’m currently watching two week old episodes of Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld on Hulu. If you like outrageous, off the wall humor in your news, you really can’t do better than this show. While “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” take familiar cable news concepts and parody them, Gutfeld completely deconstructs those concepts. If he wasn’t so libertarian, media professors would call his show a work of surreal genius. The show may not be as consistently funny as some others, but it is far less safe… you never know where they’re going to go and what they’re going to say when they get there.

Anyway… back to the numbers thing. They were talking about Dick Cheney’s interview with Bob Schieffer in which Cheney (in Greg’s words):

…insisted that enhanced interrogation saved a crapload of lives. That’s right, he said ‘crapload’.

OK, he didn’t, but he should have.

They then show the part where Cheney stated that:

“I am convinced, absolutely convinced, that we saved thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives.”

Now I don’t want to talk about the morality and ethics of enhanced interrogation, a topic about which I can’t even begin to talk intelligently.

But I do know a little something about numbers and I remember that, on 9/11 we were all terrified (or at least I was) when we heard how many people worked in the World Trade Center buildings. The number “50,000” was tossed around a good bit that morning. I was happily surprised when the final toll was drastically revised downward over the several weeks .

Near as I can make it, the only way the Bush administration could have saved “possibly hundreds of thousands” of lives is if they stopped a nuclear attack in a major city. And I’m going to go ahead and say that the burden of proof on them is pretty heavy for something like that.

If you bust six guys drinking beer and talking about nuking LA, you probably didn’t save that many people. If, however, you bust six guys drinking beer and talking about nuking LA… and they have a dozen gas centrifuges in the basement enriching uranium, they’re still miles away from nuking LA, but at least you can make the case that you saved a crapload of lives by busting them.

Take note, I’m not at all against going after potential terrorists. I’m just against using numbers so carelessly that they lose their meaning. The “hundred thousand lives saved” is, as Kevin Godlington stated on the show, lunacy.

As a side note, Kevin Godlington is one of Red Eye’s best contributors. He is a British veteran who provides remarkable insight on the show and also works with military charities to help British and American soldiers deal with combat stress. I’ve had a couple people ask if they could donate to help my pro bono work here. If you’ve ever thought of doing so, donate to Kevin’s charity instead.