Damn Lies and Statistics (as the saying goes)

My liberal friend John forwarded a funny article earlier from USA Today. Granted, it was not intentionally funny but the premise of it was so flawed that I had to laugh – until I read the comments and realized that some of our more self-righteous citizens actually bought the idea.

In short, the article claimed that North Dakota* is the most corrupt state in the United States. I don’t know anyone in North Dakota, but I have been to Sioux Falls in South Dakota once and it was a lovely town. Anyway, I digress.

The basis of their calculation is that there were 53 politicians convicted of corruption in the state since 1998. True, that does sound bad until you compare it with Illinois (which is in the news because of Governor Blagovsekhwehgarrrggh’s arrest) or California or other larger states. However, the USA Today analysis was flawed because it compared convicted politicians to total population, which is somewhat akin to comparing oranges to ocelots.

Most people are not politicians. In fact, very few people are politicians.

A more accurate analysis would have been to get the percentage of convicted politicians from the number of POLITICIANS as a whole. You see, since almost all people are not politicians, the percentage of convicted politicians cannot accurately be averaged from the total population — a whole from which it is not a subset.

If we take the number of elected politicians in North Dakota and get a percentage from the total number of elected politicians (a whole from which convicted politicians would be a subset) then we get a different figure. According to census figures**, there are 15,482 elected officials in North Dakota, of which 53 were convicted. By comparison, California had 547 convictions out of just 18,925 elected officials.

I’m no math wizard, but California is much higher as a percentage than North Dakota when you compare politicians to politicians. I don’t know if it was just sloppy research, bad math, partisan politics, or bad reporting but the premise of the story is laughably flawed.

The skewed results of their story only serve to confuse the more weak minded. That’s not a republican or democrat view on my part. When it comes to politicians, I say throw them all out.

* I do not work in public relations for the state of North Dakota, but I am willing to listen to any offers.
** US Census information on the number of elected officials is from page 3 of 1992 Census of Governments at the link above. It is a pdf.

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