“Carrots kill! – study links eating carrots with death!”
So much for your mom’s efforts to get you to eat carrots! She probably wasn’t attempting to kill you, but if the above headline is true, that could be the result. The headline is a fiction, as is the study it draws its fervor.
Several years ago while teaching a public speaking course at LSU-Shreveport, I was discussing the importance of citing valid, verifiable, and appropriate support for student’s persuasive speeches. A few students were less than rigorous and presented some noisy headlines and claims from “research” that proved to be, well, not research. A study might note a correlation of X with Y, and note associations of X with Y, and the findings would state such. But correlation and association are not causes. Sloppy journalists, lazy students, agenda driven interest groups, and political groups tend to “mis-represent” studies and research to further their aims. Duh. Yet unless one asks some basic questions, such mis-representations can enter lore as a “fact.” I gave the students an illustration.
I cited a study (fictitious) from the mid-1990’s that sampled 2,000 men and women in 12 states who were known to eat carrots as a part of their diet in 1885. The demographic profiles and measures of carrot consumption were presented (fictitious.) What was disturbing was the 100% correlation of those sampled adults who ate carrots with their death.
Who knew that one of the greatest killers of the late 19th and early 20th century were carrots?
Mark Twain reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli once remarked that there are three kinds of lies: “Lies, damn lies, and statistics.” I’m sure he would have included “polls” had they been more fashionable in the guided age. Indeed, what to make of the telephone poll that asks if the person would “support” the President if he did X, or, would the person “support” the President if he did Y? (You can imagine the mischief already!)
No matter how one responds to such a calculated poll, those polled supported the President.
Sadly, the rapid dissemination of information in our times permits selected headlines and correlations to be derived from “research” to modify public thinking to support some mischief, usually clothed in fear. Lies, damn lies, and statistics are legion among those forces seeking to restrict your freedom “for your protection” or safety. I mean, really, who on earth designed those goofy bicycle helmets? And what fears of catastrophe drive a municipality to mandate their use? Or digital cameras watching a road 24/7 for miscreants not wearing seat belts...or peering through house windows in search of _______ (fill in the blank.)
Remember that one evening, several years ago, millions of people went to sleep content with themselves only to wake up diagnosably “obese.” Did they spend the night in a blackout raid on the pantry and refrigerator? Nope. The next morning adjusted federal formulas for determining “over weight” and obesity went in force. New problems arose! New fears! A new need for food labels! A new need for a war on fat! Tax calories! New advocacies! Need more control over what people eat...
Did I mention lies, damn lies, and statistics?