Can't Trust Official Statistics
Jack D. Douglas
by Jack D. Douglas: American
statist statistics are only about the subjects and categories, and
use only operational definitions and procedures to construct those
statistics, which are determined ultimately by the politicians who
control the state. All official statistics are, thus, inherently
biased by the powerful individuals who run the states, so official
stats. vary wildly among nation-states and other political groups.
In America, for example, there are massive official stats. on the
deaths the state categorizes as due to drug uses defined by the
state as "illegal," almost entirely those of poorer people. There
are no official slats. on the deaths due to prescription drugs the
state defines as legal, even though non-state studies show prescription
drugs kill many times more Americans than the illegal drugs. Big
Pharma. Corps. and doctors and the politicians they pay-off massively
want to control non-pharmaceutifical drug uses to end them, not
the immense drug uses of Big Pharma drugs. Only a tiny part of human
experience is the subject of official stats., those parts that the
state wants to know about in detail to control in some way for statist
purposes. There are no official stats. on "paying officials bribes
to get profitable legislation passed for the payers." There are
massive official stats. on the knowledge of k-12 students. Where
are the official stats. on "Ignorance of Officials."?
my Ph.D. study of suicides by going back and studying the history
of official statistical data because almost all social science studies
of suicide used the official, statist statistics on suicides uncritically
[which no real scientist would do with any statistics]. I went back
to the ancient world briefly [there is little info. on that] and
began more detailed work on the tax roles from Medieval England,
the moral statistics from the 17th century on in major states, and
up to the modern states. When you study the origins of official
stats. it is perfectly obvious they are created and collected for
statist purposes and not for scientific purposes. They are obviously
inherently biased by political power. Modern citizens and slaves
who live inside these massive, bureaucratic states are controlled
massively in a total-wrap-around way by the statist concepts and
data the people of power create and use to control the citizens
and slaves. As long as people live within those official data, they
are being sub-consciously controlled by the people of power running
Social Meanings of Suicide [originally my Ph.D. thesis at
Princeton, published by Princeton UP], reports on my findings from
historical and comparative studies about the invalidities and unreliabilities
of official reports and statistics on suicide in general. ["Valiidity"
concerns the "truthfulness" of definitions of categories in statistics.
"Reliability" concerns the degree of agreement among all the people
using the definitions to construct the actual statistics.] I then
did a study of coroner and medical examiner categorizations of suicide
as a cause of death in the counties of New York State and showed
the wild differences in definitions and methods used, making them
totally unusable as any kind of "scientific data." This was reported
in various of my works, such as American
Social Order and Investigative
of Buffalo was very blunt. It was and is a largely Catholic county,
so official categorization of cause of death as "suicide" is very
controversial most of the time because it leads to not being buried
in the Catholic way, etc. He said no death was categorized as "suicide"
officially unless a note in the victim's handwriting was found.
This was totally different from the med. exam. system in NY City
where the med. exam. has total power. Buffalo rarely did autopsies,
but in NYC any unattended death was generally followed quickly by
a full-scale autopsy, used partly as "practice" for med. students
and interns and residents at NYU at that time, where I was invited
to take part in one such autopsy to show me how they inferred suicide.
It was very hot that day and I was already queasy, so I begged off.
A med. examiner just north of the City told me you could throw all
the possible "suicide" reports up and count as suicides those which
stuck to the ceiling and you'd be as right as the official categorizations.
And she was not laughing. She took it for granted as true after
all her experience.
I and my students
and many other colleagues did massive studies of official stats
on crimes, etc., and showed the same things.
I tend to
take this for granted and rarely bother writing about it for any
data, especially economic data, though I've done that massively
decades ago, as in The
Myth of the Welfare State. There are no official stats.
on social phenomenon that are "scientific." Even population stats.,
counting heads, is inherently only roughly approximate when vast
money and work is put into it. Fred Stephan, at Princeton, my first
thesis chair, had been Pres. of the American Statistical Association,
but he agreed with me that population stats. vary wildly, especially
in other countries. My tutor from Harvard undergrad. days, Ivan
Vallier, was doing some research in Argentina back then and asked
to see the official pop. data for a recent period. They gave him
the only official book of those stats. and he kept it under his
bed in his hotel until returning it. In America that would seem
insane to the statisticians. Fred had had similar experience in
is officially undefined or defined as "the intentional killing of
one's self" almost everywhere, "Intention" is inherently very problematic,
then the operational procedures used are wildly different, so the
stats. are inherently very unscientific. The individual categorizations
vary wildly in their degree of uncertainty. For example, did Marilyn
Monroe commit suicide? Unless someone killed her on purpose and
comes forward and gives conclusive proof, we cannot know. We can
only argue empirically and common-sensically to infer subjective
All of these
things are true, to widely varying degrees, about all the economic
stats. Unemployment data is notoriously invalid and unreliable in
the U.S. and everywhere. They change the small-print, hidden operational
definitions frequently, normally in part to keep the official rates
down. The mass of Labor Dept. statisticians have nothing to do with
this. The few top political appointees and "expert" committees they
appoint make the decisions, as is usually the case with official
stats. If you read the fine print of the "experts," you can follow
these things. Who does? The top "experts" working with the political
leaders of all these official statistical organizations can vary
all kinds of "small variables" hardly noticed by non-experts – "seasonal
adjustments," periods considered, the wordings and personal characteristics
of telephone pollsters, decisions to recall or not, etcetc.
pollsters learn early in their training that face-to-face and telephone
and written poll statistics can be changed – biased – widely by
the wordings of questions, the tones of voice, the introductory
messages, the accents of the pollsters talking on the phone, etcetc.
There is a whole literature on this and any good and honest pollster
knows that. Seymour Martin Lipset once told me that a good, serious
pollster knows that he must know the general situation he is trying
to get details on from the poll before he begins the polling, obviously
from other, more reliable information about the general situation.
So they do pretesting of how different groups interpret different
words used in the polling, etc. I always thought Marty was one of
the best precisely because he studied the real world with all good
data and used polling in that context to get more precise about
population proportions, distributions, changes over time, etc.
of "data" come in to such agencies and they differ wildly in their
apparent qualities. Some is thrown out as obvious trash, mistakes,
or even hoaxes. How you define what is acceptable and what is not
can make a big difference.
of inclusion and exclusion of data in general, the times for beginning
a study [e.g., Jan., 2012, versus Feb., 2012] and ending it, and
on and on, make big differences in the official stats. produced
by these bureaucracies.
good books on how to lie with statistics of this sort and how to
defend against the liars. Reporters and the overwhelming majority
of Americans obviously never read such books, unless they want to
do the official statistical lying and then they always deny these
obvious truths and pretend those books and essays like this one
do not exist – they disappear the truth from the public, as usual.
D. Douglas [send him mail]
is a retired professor of sociology from the University of California
at San Diego. He has published widely on all major aspects of human
beings, most notably The
Myth of the Welfare State.
© 2012 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in
part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.
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