I remember an Asterix comic I read very long back. One of the characters quipped about chief Vitalstatistix's use of statistics during their village elections- "With statistics you can prove anything". I couldn't agree with it more.
I myself have had Statistics as an elective during my +2 education, and found it a very interesting subject. The beauty about statistics was that it was an exact science. You had to follow a certain set of fixed rules, and you reached a conclusion. No chances for any subjectivity. However, in the preface of my textbook were the most important instructions to be followed while you deal with statistics – " Always interpret the results carefully ". A famous quote, variously attributed, is: "There are three types of lies – lies, damn lies, and statistics." The fact is that statistics has been used to mislead the general public in one too many cases. A simple example to show how statistics can be interpreted differently for the same results…
Its a well known fact that in developed countries, the female population is always a certain percentage higher than the male population, ie the male:female ratio is 1:1.xx. Now what can we infer from that?
Inference 1 (incorrect): In developed countries there is a higher likelihood of female births (??)
Inference 2 (correct): Females have a higher life expectancy than males. In the absence of female foeticide, infanticide, it is evident that females will occupy a higher part of the country's population.
So we can see that we should always be careful with statistics. But there is still one all-too-famous statistical result in our country that I feel is grossly misrepresented. I fail to understand why directors of the country's highest educational bodies cannot be more careful in stating such results in press conferences.
Every year in April-May you will have all the newspapers and TV channels shouting in your face–
"XYZ Results Out. Girls Fare Better Than Boys"
"Girls Outdo Boys In Class 12 Board Exams"
Consider the following link. Now don't get me wrong and start shouting MCP ! MCP ! I have nothing against girls beating boys to the top. In fact I have nothing against girls being on top of boys. But I sincerely feel that this statistic is interpreted incorrectly.
The reason is that even today all girls are not sent to schools to study. Whereas there is this unwritten law of preference to boys, that boys will be doing all the work and girls will be doing the household chores. This still exists in many parts of India. So the result is that, if any girl does not have any interest in studying, she may drop out of school. But with boys, even if studies are the last thing on a boy's mind, he will be forced to mug up books in school. So we see that boys who DO NOT want to study are forced to study, and they make the ratio of successful boys poorer than girls, some of whom don't have to study if they don't want to. Consider the link I gave earlier again. In class X results, the pass percentage of girls and boys is almost the same (95-96%), whereas in XII, surprisingly there is a big gap (girls-95%, boys 91%). Now what should we infer?? That boys study well only upto Class X, and lose their touch thereafter?? No, its because a lot of girls who are not interested (and who show no promise) can safely pull out after Std X, and so the percentage of girls increase. The article itself mentions "..girls had done better than boys despite the fact that fewer girls had sat for the exams: The ratio was 44 girls to 56 boys.." I was puzzled about 'despite'… it should have been 'because' 🙂
All said and done, I'm curious why learned people like Ms Rita Wilson always make such comments year after year. Maybe it caters to the government's claims of uplifting women in the country. Now we don't need statistics to infer that 😉
I wonder who's the topper… a girl or a boy??