Statistics: The Point Is?

Mark Twain wrote in his autobiograhy:

Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”

A recent article in the Vancouver Sun, about an Angus Reid survey regarding “Canadians’ openness to the religions of others” based on “the results of a major survey of more than 2,000 residents by Vancouver-based pollsters Angus Reid” highlights the importance of context and clarity in stating conclusions based on statistics.

The article asserts that, according to the survey:

Asking specifically about interfaith marriage, the pollsters found 66 per cent of British Columbians would find it “acceptable” for their child to marry a Christian.

Another 53 per cent of B.C. residents approve of their daughter or son marrying a Buddhist, while 40 per cent would give their blessing to matrimony with a Jew.

But only 36 per cent of British Columbians support their child marrying a Hindu, just 28 per cent would approve of marrying a Sikh and a tiny 17 per cent endorse wedding a Muslim.

Putting aside my immediate reaction – this being BC – which was to wonder whether the survey respondents thought the pollsters were asking about (BC) Buddism, not Buddhism, I wonder, based on my 7 months of living in Vancouver, how a survey of 2000 “Vancouver-area” residents accurately reflects the views of Canadians generally, let alone the views of BC residents outside of the Vancouver area.

The article also doesn’t outline the make-up of the apparently randomly selected poll respondents.

Still, if the trend in 2nd paragraph of the 3 quoted immediately above is accurate, it suggests that, at least in Vancouver, people are becoming colour-blind but more “ism-phobic”. Or, it might simply suggest that the majority of the respondents believed that more observant members of the Abrahamic religions are less likely to be accomodating of other “isms”. I suppose there’s recent historical evidence of that although, in the case of Judaism, it tends to be limited to exiling one’s co-religionists from the faith, rather than from the planet.


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