A lot of journalists rely on numbers reported by government agencies for research. When it comes to government reported numbers I tended to follow the advice of George Carlin who said, “I have certain rules I live by. My first rule: I don’t believe anything the government tells me.” This advice has proven its value time and again because the government has a tendency to make shit up. Take the Center for Disease Control (CDC). The agency has been cooking the numbers when it comes to gun violence. In fact the agency has overcooked the numbers so thoroughly that even anti-gun organizations like The Trace, which should be happily gobbling up the fallacious numbers, had to call bullshit:
But the gun injury estimate is one of several categories of CDC data flagged with an asterisk indicating that, according to the agency’s own standards, it should be treated as “unstable and potentially unreliable.” In fact, the agency’s 2016 estimate of gun injuries is more uncertain than nearly every other type of injury it tracks. Even its estimates of BB gun injuries are more reliable than its calculations for the number of Americans wounded by actual guns.
An analysis performed by FiveThirtyEight and The Trace, a nonprofit news organization covering gun violence in America, found that the CDC’s report of a steady increase in nonfatal gun injuries is out of step with a downward trend we found using data from multiple independent public health and criminal justice databases. That casts doubt on the CDC’s figures and the narrative suggested by the way those numbers have changed over time.
This isn’t unprecedented behavior. The CDC has lied about gun violence statistics before.
In addition to not believing anything the government tells me, I’m also automatically skeptical of statistics. Statistics in of itself isn’t bad. There are a lot of great uses for statistics. However, statistics can be easily manipulated to show a desired result and more often than not it seems that people reporting statistics are reporting numbers that were specifically crafted to show the outcome that they desired.