The topic of statistics and random studies is a frequent topic around my household. Just this week a study was released indicating the breast cancer rate in the US dropped by 7% and can be correlated with the decrease in use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in 2003. While these figures may be compelling (even the researchers warn they are in need of additional data) there are statistical samples that always deserve a closer look.

Recently on a short trip to the gym I heard a snippet from John Tesh’s radio program talking about your mood and health. To sum up, if you get angry at least once a day you increase your chances of heart disease, you stand a greater chance of having your teeth fall out, and you are more likely to loose your job. I have been unable to locate this report, however, I began to wonder when they assessed the mood of the subjects in the study. If I had heart disease, missing teeth and just lost my job, chances are high that I will be angry at least once a day if not most of the day.

Take the following bit of information on the percentage of minorities in the US military compared to the total US population from the new site Swivel, which promises to be a veritable treasure trove of data easily assecible to those who wish to explore many fascinating correlations (my personal favorite being the comparison of global warming and the decline of pirates). In this particular case, African Americans are overrepresented in the military as a percentage of the US population, where Hispanics are underrepresented, with minorities as a collective overrepresented.

We are consistently bombarded with statements from persons such asRepresentative Charles Rangel (D-NY) that the military isdisproportionately represented by minorities which the data would seem
to suggest. Rep. Rangel continues to tout this as his justification forintroducing legislation to reinstate the draft “to make it clear that if there were a war, there would be more equitable representation of
people making sacrifices.”

While I admire the Representative for his desire to make the military more equally represented from an economic and racial perspective, there is an interesting data point that is missing, the breakdown in percentage of minority vs. white killed in action (KIA) in Iraq. The mostrecent Iraq Index report from The Brooking Institute indicates that the current percentage of white soldiers killed is 75.6% leaving 24.4% of various minorities. So for such a disproportionate number of minorities in the military, a larger percentage of those killed have been white.

This data proves nothing other than the sentiment behind making statements that the US is sending countless minority soldiers off do die in foreign wars is incorrect and that we must remember statistics are numbers to often used for convenience. As with our biases, we use statistics to simplify the amount of data we are bombarded with daily. Unfortunately too many times this is used by countless others in several venues (politics, media, advertising, etc.) to guide our opinions, drive our actions and influence our choices, we just need to be aware and take a second look.

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