Section II: Statistics



If you've come this far, you're comfortable with reasoning. You can hear or read an argument and evaluate the truth of it. You can handle definite assertions like "The NATO bombing is just". But there's a whole sneaky means of reasoning and convincing we haven't dealt with: Statistics.

Who needs them?

Well, there are three reasons to use statistics, in practice:

1.      As a shorthand. Let's say you want to know something about how hot it is in one place (say, Ottawa, Ontario) compared to another place (say Miami, Florida). You could measure the temperature every day and compare each one, compile long lists, for a year. Then you could compare each number on the list. Then you could say: "On Tuesday it was ten degrees hotter in Miami, on Wednesday it was 20 degrees hotter,", and so on… and keep track of all of these numbers. Or you could summarize them, using statistics, and say something like "on average it's 22 degrees hotter in Miami than in Ottawa."

2.      To gamble. If you drop something from the top floor balcony, you can be sure it will fall. But if you flip a coin, you can't be sure it will come up heads. But you can talk about the 'chances' of it coming up heads. Or the 'probability' of it coming up heads. You're using statistics again.

3.      To lie. This is the use of statistics that concerns us; you will learn some common statistical deceptions, a bit of the fancy lingo the high and mighty use to make it easier to intimidate, and a few tactics for fighting these deceptions.



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