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Thinking Critical for Homeland Security 2010-04-HLS-355-OL009 Written Assignment 5 By Gabriel A. Godart Thomas Edison State College.
H.G. Wells noted that statistical thinking will one day be as necessary for efficient citizenship as the ability to read and write. Indeed, statistics offer information from a new perspective, and most people do not have sufficient statistical knowledge to analyze the information presented in the form of graphs, tables or pie charts. Another fact is that people place a lot more trust in numbers over words as they are more explicit. Based on these factors, statisticians became very talented in the art of manipulating the information by re-arranging their results in order to demonstrate and prove their arguments. In the following discussion, we will examine graphical statistics representing the number of non-natural deaths and their causes. We will determine whether or not the information is presented correctly and we will point out any statistical fallacies and misinterpretations if any. The material presented to us is a series of data, tables, and graphs supposedly related to one another and created by the US Department of State to demonstrate and quantify the number of non-natural deaths abroad and their causes. At first sight it is not quite evident that these numbers are, in fact, related to the number of American deaths abroad. Therefore, if the reader does not verify the sources of these data, it could be quite confusing and the analysis quite challenging.
Looking at the first set of data provided, which states the period covered in the analysis, the total number of countries and foreign possessions, and the total number of non-natural deaths, it seems a bit odd that only two thousand three hundred and twelve non-natural deaths occurred within three years around the world. After further researching the topic, I realized that the author omitted to mention that the statistics does not include deaths of military personnel, which are reported to the Defense Department. This of course, is a major element of consideration in our reasoning and before drawing any conclusions. The first table introduced to us enumerates the different causes of death and their respective cumulative total and percent total. It seems to me life the fields are not properly titled. Indeed, they are rather vague and make the table difficult to read. It also pushes us somehow to deduce what kind of information we are looking at. For instance a possible interpretation, which I know is not correct, would be that between July 1 st 2004 and June 30th 2007, there were 54 natural disasters. However, the table is meant to read that 54 deaths were caused by natural disasters. Therefore, instead of reading Cumulative total and Percent Total, the table should have read Cumulative total number of deaths. Moreover, this table is only representative of 94.4% of deaths, which triggered my curiosity about the 5.6% deaths not mentioned and why were they omitted? It is a small percentage, I agree, but it makes the statistics a bit questionable as it not completely accurate and does not fully represent the population in question. The second table is even more interesting for several reasons. First all, of it itemizes the top six countries where the most US non-natural deaths occurred, therefore voluntarily omitting 52.5% or one thousand two hundred and forty-eight deaths. It seems as if the author is trying to influence the audience by isolating a few countries; Mexico in particular. However this table fails to include the cause of these deaths, apparently trying to deceive the audience and drive
them to think that travelling to Mexico is quite unsafe. The histogram provided, accentuates this argument as it shows that 53% of non-natural deaths of Americans outside of the United States, occurred in the Americas, which could be translated by stating that one in two Americans travelling there will be killed. If I did not know any better, I would think that these statistics are meant to persuade the American people not to travel there. But, what these data do not show or should we say fail to remind its audience, is the fact that Mexico is one of the most popular destination for American travelers for the reason that it is nearby and that it does not cost as much to get there than to go to Asia or Africa. Another factor which must be taken into account and which should be differentiated from the rest, is the percentage of college students among these travelers which travel to the Americas with the intention to party and without any common sense which can lead to the increase of fatal accidents. The titles of the last two graphs presented are unbiased and do not have the intent to persuade their readers. At first, when looking at the top five causes of death over the last four reporting periods, it seems like there is a steady pattern and that the number of non-natural deaths does not seem to fluctuate over the years. However, and this is where I have an issue, when we observe the x-axis and pay particular attention to the reporting periods in question, we cannot help but noticing that they are intersect each other, and I believe that it does not offer a pertinent comparison. In this case, there should have been three distinct periods of fourteen months, since the entire period totals forty-two months. Besides the issue with the x-axis, the title should be a bit more precise and mention the top five causes of non-natural death instead. As far as the pie chart is concerned, it gives us a better perspective than the previous histogram and actually shows that the number of non-natural deaths has been decreasing over the years by nearly 10% which gives us a better outlook than the previous data.
Put together, graphical statistics can make a powerful tool in presenting information. In the end, however, whether or not a graph is accurate depends on the maker, and whether he or she wishes the graph to be honest or misleading. That is why we must be true to the data when dealing with statistics, and always remember what makes the difference between an accurate graph and an inaccurate one.
References
Lectures Notes Module 5. (n.d.). Lies, Darned Lies & Statisitcs (Benjamin Disraeli) . Thomas Edison State College 2010-04-HLS-355-OL. M. Neil Browne and Stuart M. Keeley. (2007). Asking The Right Questions, A Guide To Critical Thinking. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Prentice Hall.

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