Got your attention, right?
I’m writing about numbers and how they are manipulated to fool you.
Just for the sake of argument, let’s say the miracle food is blueberries, and a study from a prestigious university found eating a pound of them a week did in fact, cut the risk of getting stomach cancer.
The American Cancer Society said one out of every 116 Americans will get stomach cancer, so your lifetime risk is 0.8 percent. Cut that by just 0.4 percent and you can legitimately boast that blueberries cut the risk of getting stomach cancer by 50 percent. But would you give the headline a second glance if it said, “Miracle food cuts cancer risk from 0.8 to 0.4 percent?”
Here’s the point: I had a comment on an earlier post about prosecutions under the National Instant Criminal Background Check system and how sharply they’ve fallen under the Obama administration. The comment said prosecutions were down 70 percent.
Really? I’m a professional skeptic. That’s a big part of my job. I also know, whatever you may think of the president, he’s not stupid, and allowing such prosecutions to drop so dramatically would be politically stupid. So I looked into it.
The number I found was 40 percent, cited by Virginia Republican Representative Bob Goodlatte April 14 on “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.” (By the way, if you are ever inspired to comment, I really appreciate citations for any numbers you use.)
Politifact looked into it and found Goodlatte was as right as my headline is.
The Justice Department said there are about 70,000 denials for gun purchases a year. Under President Bush, 0.015 percent of the cases of lying on the application were prosecuted. Under Obama, 0.08 percent of the cases were prosecuted.
My calculator says that’s a 53 percent drop, but the number of cases prosecuted under both administrations is still almost zero.
The comment also accused the president of not acting on grants to the states to improve reporting of those unfit to own firearms. Again, sounds like a pretty stupid thing to do to me.
Without a citation, I can’t be sure I’m responding directly to the point, but the Bureau of Justice Statistics said 18 states have received $50,659,449 since 2009. Arizona has received $1,595,098 since 2011.
Here’s another point: The health of our democracy depends on us. If we are ill-informed or misinformed, we’re apt to make bad decisions in the voting booth.
Be skeptical! If someone tells you a pound of blueberries every week will cut your risk of stomach cancer by 50 percent, take that information with a big grain of salt.
A final point: I love what I do, but I take it very seriously. I have a deeply-felt obligation to you to do my best to make sure the information I give you here, and on the air, is accurate.
Because I can’t be sure letting a comment stand without a response might be interpreted as endorsing the information in the comment, I will always do my best to check that information, and respond if I think it’s necessary or helpful.