Re: Feeling fine, but stats say differently (Advocate Letters, Dec. 23)
My colleague, Guillermo Baron, has commented on my statements regarding the Maclean’s magazine sensationalist claim that Red Deer is the fourth most dangerous city in Canada (Living dangerously in Red Deer, Dec. 15 Advocate). If one accepts his endorsement of Maclean’s “logic,” one might be led to conclude that Red Deer is awash in rape. robbery, murder and mayhem.
Baron starts out strong, “statistics apparently show …” but then very uncritically proceeds to ignore his own injunction and concludes that one should trust the statistics, blindly, regardless.
In the process he first dismisses my contention that the statistics are “complicated” and then fabricates a conclusion where I am supposed to have said that my “feelings” were “more important.”
Omitting reference to any part of the real substance of your article, he concludes, “What should we trust more: your (sic) feelings or the statistics?”
The Maclean’s rankings are based on Statistics Canada’s Crime Severity Index 2010, which is a measure of the proportion of offenders who are incarcerated and the length of their sentences factored by the crime rate.
The (Statistics Canada Uniform Crime Report 2010) crime rate for Red Deer shows comparatively small amounts of violent crime (no murders, 15 aggravated assaults) but higher rates of property crime, particularly auto theft and breaking and entering, as incorporated in the severity index.
A full analysis of the statistics is indeed complicated, but a short form of the conclusion is that Red Deer’s severity index score could be fairly understood to reflect greater intolerance for non-violent property offences. And understanding this, I do not feel that I am likely to be a victim tomorrow.
The problem is not with the statistics. Rather it is with how the statistics are presented and interpreted.
Disraeli once observed that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics. He was wrong; statistics are neutral facts. What he really meant was there are three kinds of liars: liars, damned liars and statisticians. Perhaps the latter should also include tabloid news magazines and the odd philosopher.