My Baby Shot Gun Control Me Down… with Statistics

Best way to lie? Statistics, no question about it, and if you don’t believe me I can show you some statistics that support this point… or any other point for that matter. But statistics are even better to lie to yourself; the same way different people see different things when they look at clouds, people also see different things when they look at data, and if there is one endless debate where people reinforce their beliefs with cherry picked data that debate is gun control. about cherry picking, let’s check at the The Young Turks‘ argument to support stricter gun control in the USA: “ban guns like Japan and you have 2 gun related homicides, don’t ban guns and you have 10,225 gun related homicides”. And they explain their point in a way that you’d better not to dare to disagree. Sure they could have compared data from 2007 where the USA had 9,146 gun related homicides and Brazil 34,678 mentioning that Brazil has much tighter gun control laws than the USA but, unfortunately, this is the way politics and media works; it does not matter if you are right or wrong, only if you look right or wrong. But let’s analyze some data and a few more examples of how information is presented to us. Continue reading

Racial Profiling vs Description of the Suspect

You are a policeman in a car chase of a criminal wearing globes and a mask, the most likely scenario according to statistics is that the criminal is a white person. Then the car stops in front of a bar and the criminal rushes in getting rid of the globes, mask and changing his clothing. You enter the bar and you see a white guy and a non-white guy. Who should you question first? The non-white guy. Racism? No, Bayes’ Theorem.

reverse-racial-profilingAccording to the US Department of Justice racial profiling is defined as:

Any police-initiated action that relies on the race, ethnicity, or national origin rather than the behavior of an individual or information that leads the police to a particular individual who has been identified as being, or having been, engaged in criminal activity.

A key part in this definition is where it justifies the police-initiated action when there is information that leads to a particular individual. In other words, if there are witnesses saying that the thief was a barefooted blond white little girl wearing a green blouse and a red tutu then going after girls looking like that would not be considered racial profiling but simply checking on the description of the suspect.

But how about if the police-initiated action is not based on information coming from witnesses but in information coming from statistics? Is information coming from statistics still information according to the definition of the US Department? Continue reading