2.5. Misuse of Statistics

Shanell Sanchez and Kate McLean

 

 Misuse of Statistics Exercise

The misuse of statistics promotes crime myths and generates fear of crime. There are various ways that we can misuse statistics, such as limiting public access to critical information, presenting false information, using deceptive formats to present information, or failing to present a larger context or history. [1]

Exercise: Find a news article that demonstrates an apparent misuse of crime statistics for a crime, then discuss how it misuses this data or fails to provide sufficient background.

I found this article, which demonstrates how individuals on different sides of an issue can manipulate data toward their advantage. (In fact, the article explicitly calls out both camps’ misuse of statistics.) Helpfully, it also links to thorough, evidence-based reports which can provide real answers to the question at hand: Does cash bail reform lead to increases in violent crime?

 

Truth Test: Will ending cash bail in Illinois cause a rise in crime?

Misuse of statistics happens all the time; sometimes it is intentional, others accidental. In fact, it is likely that all of us have cited inaccurate or misleading data in our lives – maybe to win an argument, or perhaps just out of laziness! Or perhaps we simply are not familiar with the source of different statistics, or don’t understand how the data was collected.  Arguably, a critical understanding of methodology – the ways in which numbers are generated – are more important than our understanding of statistics, or mathematics.


  1. Kappler, V., & Potter, G. 2018. The Mythology of Crime and Criminal Justice (5th ed.). Waveland Press, Inc: Long Grove.

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2.5. Misuse of Statistics Copyright © 2019 by Shanell Sanchez and Kate McLean is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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