Sunday, October 4, 2015

Statistics and Arguments

I have had some interesting discussions with some of my Facebook friends the last few weeks. Most of the discussions are political in nature and how the country is progressing now compared to previous administrations. What I like most about the discussions is how people are willing to argue for what they believe to be true.

It is normal for people to try and sell their point of view. Many arguments take place on an emotional level and have no basis in fact. There is a tremendous amount of misinformation disseminated daily on the internet and many people believe what they read, if it supports their position.

Normal sales techniques include emphasizing the information you think is important and ignoring information that does not support your position. I am familiar with the techniques and use them myself. I think this is normal behavior. A good salesman knows that people make decisions based on emotion and try to defend their decisions with logic. The sales pitch does not seem to work the same when I try to explain to my wife why I bought something I did not need, but that is another subject.

Our newspapers and broadcast news media are masters at ignoring stories that might show a Democrat in an unfavorable light. Stories that support their position usually get on page one and stories that they do not like end up on page 27 or get ignored completely. I think this bias is a disservice to news consumers and damaging to our country.

I try to be accurate with my facts and I expect people to read what I say with skepticism. That is okay with me, since that is how I read everything. If you do find information I espouse to be in error, please let me know. I usually check my facts and I like it when other people do the same. Most of the actual statistics I present come from government databases.

If you ever look at data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics you can be overwhelmed in a hurry. There is so much data available, it makes it hard to find exactly what you want to know. Google sometimes gives shortcuts into the big database.

I have a degree from the University of Houston in mathematics, but I do not claim to be a statistician. It has been so long since I studied rigorously, sometimes I have to refresh my memory once I get past algebra and into calculus or trigonometry. I do like numbers and I am normally more interested in historical data and trends than I am in current information. A snapshot of current data is valuable for some applications, but without the historic context it means little to me.

Below are some charts that might be of interest to some people.

Note how forcing people out of the workforce decreases unemployment. A direct correlation in recent years.

Workforce participation climbed in the seventies and eighties and is now in decline again.

This chart show the wealthy are getting wealthier much faster than the poor and middle class are progressing. A trend that needs to change.

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