Friday, 11 July 2008

Picturing statistics

Statisitcs is about data in context, but great statistics, convincing statistics, requires more. In a world where nearly half the people are mathematically illiterate, and way more than half believe the old saw about, "Liars, damned liars, and statistics" you have to be able to present information in a dramatic way. A way that shakes people out of the cold dull stares we reserve for passive entertainment. I think much of what Chris Jordan does falls into that "great" statistics category.

The Ted Talk description says, "Artist Chris Jordan shows us an arresting view of what Western culture looks like. His supersized images picture some almost unimaginable statistics -- like the astonishing number of paper cups we use every single day." How about this for a shocker...we use 4,000,000 plastic cups a day on airlines alone... A Day! Other things that may surprise out of every four people in prison in the world, are in the USA...2,300,000... "Land of the free?"

Remember 9-11? Of course you do... but on that day 3000 (or so) people died from a terrorist attack. Chris points out that on that day, and every day since, 1100 people die from cigarettes, over 400,000 people every year, (rule of thumb, ALWAYS check statistics.. people lie, so I checked with the Center for Disease Control,
.."Cigarette smoking is the single most preventable cause of premature death in the United States. Each year, more than 400,000 Americans die from cigarette smoking. In fact, one in every five deaths in the United States is smoking related. Every year, smoking kills more than 276,000 men and 142,000 women."... …
and 157,000 are JUST from lung cancer). When people think of cancers caused by smoking, the first one that comes to mind is always lung cancer. Most cases of lung cancer death, close to 90% in men, and 80% in women are caused by cigarette smoking. There are several other forms of cancer attributed to smoking as well, and they include cancer of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, bladder, stomach, cervix, kidney and pancreas, and acute myeloid leukemia. The list of additives allowed in the manufacture of cigarettes consists of 599 possible ingredients. When burned, cigarette smoke contains over 4000 chemicals, with over 40 of them being known carcinogens. Kind of like the lottery of death, except there is a “winner” every time…I am reminded that I teach my students that in statistics we calculate binomial probability using the term p for the probability of success, even if the “success” in question is death.

I'm a teacher. I work with teenagers every day, and it scares me that 65,000 teenagers will begin smoking this month. Maybe a visual impact on their senses will stop one... or two?

A good conclusion, "How do we change?" WATCH !!

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