Statistical comfort distorts our politics

Wolfgang Münchau at the Financial Times: “…So how should we deal with data and statistics in areas where we are not experts?

My most important advice is to treat statistics as tools to help you ask questions, not to answer them. If you have to seek answers from data, make sure that you understand the issues and that the data are independently verified by people with no skin in the game.

What I am saying here is issuing a plea for perspective, not a rant against statistics. On the contrary. I am in awe of mathematical statistics and its theoretical foundations.

Modern statistics has a profound impact on our daily lives. I rely on Google’s statistical translation technology to obtain information from Danish newspapers, for example.  Statistical advances allow our smartphone cameras to see in the dark, or a medical imaging device to detect a disease. But political data are of a much more uncertain quality. In political discussions, especially on social networks, statistics are used almost entirely to confirm political biases or as weapons in an argument. To the extent that this is so, you are better off without them….(More)”.