Books: Fact-check, Mate

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Joel Best’s Stat-Spotting: A Field Guide to Identifying Dubious Data, belongs on the nightstand of anyone who regularly encounters statistics—which is to
say, everyone. In my line of work as a fact-checker, the book’s case studies are
even more of a must-read.

Take, for example, this health
statistic, repeated on a number of websites: Each year, 20,000 people die from
taking aspirin.

Best proffers a number of tips that challenge this factoid’s accuracy.

#1: If something sounds too shocking to be true, it probably is.

Check.

#2: Make sure sources aren’t biased.

The stat appears on a site titled What Doctors Don’t Tell You and a page promoting magnetic therapy as an alternative to (you guessed it) aspirin.

#3: Look for “botched translations”—numbers simplified to the point of inaccuracy.

Checking in with the FDA (a trusted source that appears to be the original), we find that an estimated 10,000-20,000 people die a year from NSAID (Nonsteroidal Inflammatory Drugs) complications. Aspirin is indeed an NSAID, but so are several other drugs, including ibuprofen. So this figure unfairly singles out aspirin, omits the “complications” modifier, and uses the highest figure from a broad number range. It’s also a stat from 1999.

Mate.

This example illustrates just how easy it is for a number to be misrepresented, and how it can quickly take on a life of its own. And Best reveals how even major publications and news networks propagate misinformation.

It’s tempting after reading Stat-Spotting to throw up your hands and turn against data entirely. But the tome successfully shows how to sort the muck from the truth, which is out there. And as Best says, “We need quantitative data—statistics—to guide us.”

In other words, we need stats to make sense of the world. We just need to know how to make sense of the stats.

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

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