Statistics: Trends, Trials, and Truth
Biostatistics. What is it and why do we care? Biostatistics is simply statistics filtered through a biological lenses and we care because statistics is what makes the world go round. As a society, a tragic personal story or a single casualty has a deeper impact on our emotions and affects us for a longer period of time than the news of a large number of deaths. Most people simply cannot conceive that much loss, we see it as another statistic, and so the news of one death or one injustice is much easier to relate our own lives towards. However, it is the statistics that enable change, not the individual stories. Personal tales have their place and are useful in getting the public’s attention, but it is the statistics, useful and meaningful data, of how and where these problems are occurring that urges policymakers to enact change. When there are statistics, a cause or an idea is much more difficult to dismiss out of hand or as a small problem that only effects and isolated population.
The ability to read and understand statistics is just as important as the ability to create them. Just as statistics can be used to bring clarity to a situation, they can also be used to hide and obscure the truth by highlighting certain aspects of a situation that are not as important as they may seem. Take the statistic that African Americans and Latinx make up over 50% of all prisoners while compromising around 25% of the total US population, without accounting for the over-policing and the socioeconomic reality that these communities face, it looks as if African Americans and Latinx are more prone to criminal activity. Or the media sensationalized statistic that around 75% of abusers were themselves abused as children, by itself this statistic makes it seem that if because someone was abused, then it is likely that they themselves will become an abuser. That is a false assumption. While it is true that a high number of abusers were abused, it is also true that a higher number of people who were abused go on to become functioning members of society and some of the most empathic people you will ever meet.
Many people view statistics with a high degree of reliability, but they also view mathematics and its relatives as tedious or boring and don’t want to spend time on them. However, as long as we are going to put such an emphasis on statistics, we need to learn how to interpret what we read and what we are told.
Statistics is an important class for anyone to take, but it is doubly so for anyone in a position to make decisions that affect the life and livelihood of others. Biostatistics first brings to mind the image of researchers and esoteric intellectuals, things that affect us, just not in our day to day lives. It can be those things, but statistics also drives policymaking toward items such as factors affecting health trends or the recent decision to disallow the incarceration of the poor because of an inability to post bail. Just because we are not always aware of them, does not make statistics unimportant, and learning how to organize and interpret meaningful data will better able us to spot inconsistencies, correlations versus causations, and go through life better informed of all of the facts.
- “1In6 | Am I Going To Become Abusive? What If I Already Have?”. 1in6.org. N.p., 2016. Web. 1 Sept. 2016.
- “Criminal Justice Fact Sheet”. Naacp.org. N.p., 2016. Web. 1 Sept. 2016.
- Williams, Pete. “The Justice Department Says Poor Defendants Can’t Be Held When They Can’t Afford Bail”. NBC News. N.p., 2016. Web. 1 Sept. 2016.