Misleading Comparisons: Examples

Politics and Policy

1. Murder rates are sky high!

1. Misleading comparisons in a NYT article on GMO yields and pesticide use.

Climate change: Many Examples

Absolute Numbers vs Percentages
Politics and Policy:
Although I wouldn't call this example a diliberate attempt to mislead, it's a case where people have been misled.
In 2016 election many political pundits and people in general saw the election result as evidence for a fundamental shift in America's politics and voting preferences. However,

Trump got a lower share of the white vote than Romney did (58% vs 59%). There was some change in both directions within the white vote: college-educated whites shifted toward the Democratic column by a few points (though a plurality still voted for Trump), but non-college-educated whites moved in larger numbers toward Trump (he got 67% of their votes, versus 62% for Romney). White men shifted toward Trump by 1% relative to 2012, white women in the other direction by 3%. This back-and-forth of course meant that Trump eked out victories in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, and therefore the presidency, by a combined 80,000 or so votes across the three states. But fundamentally, voting patterns didn’t change enough between 2012 and 2016 to justify big claims about new national moods or about Trump’s distinctive appeal. I believe the consequences of this election will be deeply abnormal. But the voting behavior that brought it about was, in the end, very normal.

An 80,000 vote margin in a 137 million vote election, about .05%, is susceptible of almost endless plausible explanations. The number of different factors that might well have moved that many votes is very large. So there are a lot of different true but-for explanations: but for Clinton’s failure to campaign in Wisconsin, but for the Comey letter, but for stricter voter ID laws and reductions in the numbers of polling places, but for Jill Stein, and so on, ad infinitum. A Democratic party strategist has good reason to take lots of them very seriously. But anyone trying to generalize about popular beliefs or the electorate’s mood should be very wary of any of them. Grabbing a plausibly-true but-for explanation of 80,000 votes, as if it says something big and true about the whole electorate, will over-explain the outcome. An explanation that is one of the many valid ones for those 80,000 votes, and thus for the Electoral College outcome, but that implies some large shift in opinion or mood toward Trump, is a bad explanation overall.

For more: https://niskanencenter.org/blog/defense-liberty-cant-without-identity-politics/

Fitness: The "Fat-burning" Zone
total calories vs source of energy: http://www.builtlean.com/2013/04/01/fat-burning-zone-myth/

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