In the world of the internet, everyone has a voice. And while generally that's a good thing, sometimes that privilage is abused andthat voice comes with the amazing ability (and willingness) of some people to make up data and statistics.
While it probably has always been this way, our ability to fact-check this information has never been greater. Unfortunately, with media outlets making severe cuts to news crews, cutting investigative journalism, and apparently fact checkers, it almost seems more common for made-up statistics to make their way around the internet and via twitter. One such "stat" is the idea that "Only 1 in 600 pit bulls finds a home." "The offspring of one unspayed cat will, within five years, will have 420,000 cats" is another.
Some of these are commonly used. They've been passed down for years by rescuers in the same way that urban legends are passed down. Most people don't mean to be malicious with their false statistics, but that still doesn't make them true.
But some people ARE malicious with their claims -- and those claims can also be just as made up. A couple of weeks ago a lawyer's blog popped up in my news feed. In it was yet another "statistic" that if someone thought about it for even a minute they would realize couldn't possibly be true. But there it was, in all its glory.
"Together, pit bulls and Rottweilers account for half of the 4.7 million dog bites reported in the United States in 2011."
Wow. That's quite the statistic.
Well, after one of my fellow advocates did a little sluething, here is the source for this astounding statistic.
The first, the 4.7 million dog bites, is the per year estimate routinely given by the Center for Disease Control and Humane Society of the United States. The source for this is actually a study from 1994 in which they garnered national "statistics" from 5,300 phone interviews that not only had a small sample size but also just "made up" data for age groups that were not accounted for in the study. I don't necessarily fault the author of the article for not tracking down the source (I do fault the CDC and HSUS for repeating it for the past 2 decades as if it is a reliable stat), it is more than a little dishonest to attribute this estimated number, from a study done nearly 30 years ago, as the exact number of bites that happened in the specific year 2011.
Meanwhile, datapoint in the second part of the "statistic" is apparently Merritt Clifton's 30 year report on "maimings and maulings". Clifton's data has often come under scrutiny on this blog, and Luisa did magnificent work on this several years ago here, here and here. In this case, the source is a huge miss.
However, even if the data source wasn't bunk, the data she used isn't even related to the first data point. The Clifton Report that was cited featured 30 years worth of data, not one year. And the report never professed to cover all dog bites. At its best, it was only meant to cover the worst-of dog bites (at it's worst, it's completely flawed in both its methodology, its record-keeping, and being completely non-comprehensive).
So, instead, the author of the blog reported two pieces of information, that were not related in any way shape or form, one with data from the past 30 years, and one that was literally from 30 years ago, and tacked them together for one "statistic", for one year, in 2011.
It's wrong. And I believe done to be malicious, fear-monger, and drum up business.
Accuracy is important. And making up data to create fear-mongering is not accuracy. But unfortunately it does represent the world of made-up statistics that we live in.
So please everyone, if you are using data from the internet, PLEASE consider your sources wisely.