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Distorting Reality

October 7, 2022

Have you noticed a news article with one statistic, one that favours the theme of the story? With only one statistic, it’s not possible to judge the importance of the story.

My favourite example is one that appears at this time of year. It’s about the number of birds killed by collisions with buildings. The story comes complete with heart-wrenching pictures of dead birds, and a count of dead birds picked up from the sidewalk below buildings. Conspicuously absent is any comparison with birds killed by other causes. How many birds are there in the world, anyway? Are 1%, 10%, or 100% of birds killed by collisions. I have no idea. You have no idea.

Of course, some people react to the article in spite of the missing information. What should I do? Should I do my own research? That’s necessary, but may be difficult. Should I disregard the story? That’s easier. That’s what I’ll do.

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