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Sociology: “Damned Lies and Statistics” by Joel Best

The brash title is the premiere point of the captivation of Joel Best’s ‘Damned Lies and Statistics.’ As per its apt title, the book investigates the lies and or the truths that are presented by statistics. Within it, the author states that people, for the most part, are innumerate. They find it difficult to recognize improbable figures and view large figures in the same stead, whether they are millions or billions. The fact reigns true among those who hear the numbers as much in, as those who generate and report the numbers. Best goes on to explain that statistics can be wildly inaccurate due to the confounds that occur during research and guesstimates made on various subjects. These fallacies extend due to the use of past statistics in reference to current issues and vice versa. The vicious cycle of inaccuracy hence continues.

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Joel Best avoids directly extending his observations to the statistics generated and utilized in medical mega-trials. His general stance on the subject, however, suggests that his observations also extend to them (Garth, 2012).

The goal of the book is to warn people against being confounded by statistics. He cautions against naivety and bafflement but also suggests an unbiased view of them. He credits statistics as an integral tool and states that not all statistics are necessarily bad. He advises a critical analysis of statistics before rejection or acceptance at first sight. He suggests that readers extend this trait in all aspects of life (Garth, 2012). The ensuing is a concise outline of the book’s introduction and first three chapters.

In its introduction, the book analyzes a dissertation prospectus of a student that the author once supervised. Through it, Best elaborates the gross inaccuracy that may occur when such a statistic applies to the current issues, in the absence of proper analysis (Best, 2001). Best also gives a brief summary of the book’s content. As per the title, the first chapter describes the importance of social statistics. With several examples of previously generated empirical evidence, Best explains that statistics were manipulated to highlight the brevity of problems in society. According to the preference of the sources, numbers were either inflated or grossly diminished so as to manipulate social policy. The chapter goes on to enumerate on the rise of social statistics, cited as debate influence and policy design that gradually progressed to tracking of social patterns, sources of information, and the description of social problems (Best, 2001).

The author cites innumeracy as a source of misinterpreted statistics, a problem suffered by most. The best advice that all statistics should undergo a thorough analysis. All statistics are a product of impressionable social beings. The second chapter focuses on the sources of bad statistics. Among those mentioned are sourcing numbers from guesses or unsubstantiated sources (Best, 2001).

Although research generated statistics are easily believable, Best states that the research numbers may be inaccurate due to researcher bias, an undefined subject, flawed measurement methods, inaccurate sampling of unrelated variables. The third chapter elaborates on the methods through which the most accurate numbers become mangled. Generated data may be distorted by the people who quote them. The subject matter of a study may also transform during the presentation stage due to the reception of the information and or its effects (Best, 2001).

In my opinion, the author did indeed, clearly communicate his message. His uncomplicated writing style emphasizes the importance of statistics while cautioning off the bat rejection or blind acceptance. He additionally offers remarkable questions to ask when one examines statistics, although the lack of answers might turn most readers into cynics (Garth, 2012). The reading suits a broad audience.

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In conclusion, we have to ask ourselves one question. Are the statistics that we ascribe to and believe blindly as authentic as they seem? From this book, I have learned to always scrutinize the data that I come across, no matter how authoritative the source might seem. In the end, it only takes a while, and it could go a long way.


Best, Joel. Damned Lies and Statistics: Untangling Numbers from the Media, Politicians, and Activists. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001. Web.

Massey, Garth. Readings for Sociology. New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 2012. Web.

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