Research Methods

"The Worst Social Statistic Ever"

(Go back to the Research Methods page)

A graduate student was writing a doctoral dissseration and cited this claim from the Children's Defense Fund:

"Every year since 1950, the number of American children gunned down has doubled."

According to Joel Best, the author of Damned Lies and Statistics: Untangling Numbers from the Media, Politicians, and Activists, this may the worst social statistic ever. Like many other wrong (or even impossible) ideas, it seems to have taken on a life of its own. So if you believe that lemmings commit suicide by jumping of cliffs or that people of Christopher Columbus's time thought the world was flat, you should feel comfortable believing this statistic.

If you read the statement critically, you should be able to figure out why this statistic cannot possibly be true.

Reference: The State of America's Children Yearbook--1994 (1994).Washington, DC: Children's Defense Fund.