Statistics – 1

Statistics – you either love them or loath them!

Here is a definition from Wikipedia ‘Statistics is a branch of mathematics dealing with the collection, analysis, interpretation, presentation, and organization of data.[1][2] In applying statistics to, e.g., a scientific, industrial, or social problem, it is conventional to begin with a statistical population or a statistical model process to be studied. Populations can be diverse topics such as “all people living in a country” or “every atom composing a crystal”. Statistics deals with all aspects of data including the planning of data collection in terms of the design of surveys and experiments.’

I have a problem with statistics – I am not sure that they are that accurate.

The issue is that that they can often be used to distort the truth about a subject.  For example, the television companies rely on a very small sample of what people watch to identify the ratings of any given programme.  But, in reality it cannot give a true picture of what people actually watch because not everyone registers their viewing habits.  Then there is fact that we often change channels during a programme for a variety of reasons which distorts figures.

Another area that is not very accurate is when it comes to counting people in certain countries.  Here there are  many issues such as to whether the figures are correct in terms of who belongs to what family; corruption – counting people several times for political reasons or to show that certain people groups are larger than they really are; the non-professionalism of the counters; are all people counted eg the homeless and refugees;and also many countries have not undertaken any kind of census for quite a few years. When it comes to counting refugees – does the UN and others exaggerate or under-report the numbers.? As far as I know there never has been any double-checking of any UN statistics since the organisation was created back after World War 2.  When you consider the UN is probably the biggest provider of statistics, one would have thought that checks should be made, especially as a lot of money is involved.

Many statistical models have been created, but I wonder how accurate they really are?  There never has been any really testing of them despite that they are only theories.

One area that particular concerns me is the counting of those who follow a particular religion.  For example, in Islam, whole families are counted as Muslims as well as subsequent generations, because it is a cultural ‘thing’, despite that there are many ‘categories’ of Muslims from ‘secular’ ones to ‘extremists’ – none of these are accurately counted, often because of fear of shame or dishonour.  When it comes to Christianity, it is almost as bad, especially when it comes to Evangelicals.  If a minister of church is evangelical, then the whole congregation is counted as such when the truth maybe very few actually have a living faith.  But, even those who consider themselves as evangelical may not practice their ‘faith’.  So, when statements are quoted that such a country has a very large population of Evangelicals, like Guatemala, I take them with a ‘pinch of salt’ when you see how much violence, corruption and children born outside of marriage exists.  Even in the UK, the figure of 7% evangelical is in reality is far too high when you start to dig into the working out of the faith of those part of ‘evangelical’ churches.  It also does not help that there are at least 17 ‘evangelical tribes’ with varying beliefs about key doctrines and practice.  Quoting ‘high’ figures can easily become ‘triumphalist’.  Instead, we should be looking at the real figures and take appropriate action in the area of reproducible discipling.

So, we can see that statistics can give a distorted picture of reality and therefore does not properly inform what our views should be about a given issue.  We need a better understanding of the contexts that statistics are used and get behind the ‘headlines’.  We also need to understand, in the case of religion, the belief systems of the various sub-groups, to properly understand them and therefore to be able to report objectively about them.