(Mis)Using Statistics

January 24, 2007

Christian Smith, a professor of Sociology at the University of Notre Dame, has an excellent article at Books & Culture entitled “Evangelicals Behaving Badly with Statistics.” Here are a couple of highlights:

American evangelicals, who profess to be committed to Truth, are among the worst abusers of simple descriptive statistics, which claim to represent the truth about reality, of any group I have ever seen. At stake in this misuse are evangelicals’ own integrity, credibility with outsiders, and effectiveness in the world. It is an issue worth making a fuss over. And so I write.

... Why do evangelicals recurrently abuse statistics? My observation is that they are usually trying desperately to attract attention and raise people’s concern in order to mobilize resources and action for some cause. In a world awash in information and burdened by myriad problems, some evangelicals may justify the problematic misuse of statistics to get people to pay attention to what they think are good causes. But this is inexcusable. Such desperation, alarmism, and sloppiness reflect the worst, not the best, in evangelicalism.

... I am actually arguing ... for ordinary evangelical leaders, pastors, and organizational staff-people to better exercise their God-given minds on pretty basic matters of percentages, averages, trends, and logical inferences so as to not say indefensible and embarrassing things in public.
It is a great piece that makes an excellent point. Check it out and hopefully we can help solve this problem among Christians.

0 comments