Monday, November 9, 2009


Statistics are a strange and wonderful thing. Much maligned and often misused, statistics provide a powerful insights into the world we live in. I still remember my first lesson in stats class. We all rolled dice for about 2 minutes and then reported our findings. Individually our dice numbers were all over the map, but we combined our totals (i.e., increased our sample size) lo and behold out came a normal distribution curve. Wowzers.

For some reason this graphic from the New York Times made me think of that first class. The graph has been much blogged about today as it details the US national employment rate, breaking it down by race, sex, age, and education. It points to a simple fact, often overlooked, that statistics are the compilation of much data. For example, in the graph the national unemployment rate is 8.9 percent (as of Sept). Not good, but not utterly horrible. However, if you happen to be a white man, age 15-24, with a high school degree your rate of unemployment is 15.5%, compared to an unemployment rate of 9.8% for a white woman with the same characteristics. Stats, then, often hide as much as they show.

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