Spurious Statistics – why you shouldn’t always believe what you read.

As a chemist I regularly find myself aggravated by poorly reported research, where statistics are skewed in order to provide the most sensational headline. Here, the Daily Mirror nicely directs us to a website by statistician Tyler Vigen which shows how statistics can easily be plotted against each other to mislead and shock people with apparent trends and correlations.

It’s scarily easy to force a trend between completely unrelated data, and this article proves that perfectly, with an example being the rise of cheese consumption in the US correlating with deaths by bed sheet entanglement. It sounds ridiculous, but this is exactly what a lot of people do in order to create shock headlines which sell newspapers to the sometimes gullible public.

Although on the face of it this story could seem quite trivial, such bogus trends can be very misleading and even dangerous, especially when relating to health issues. Newspapers are often keen to exploit tenuous trends in order to sell shock headlines, even if this means their readers might damage their health by believing the links, as people very rarely delve further into the story and read the actual research for themselves.

Hopefully articles like this will encourage the public to question what they’re reading more, and look for the real evidence behind some apparent correlations that might be absolute nonsense.


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