Damned Lies and Statistics

Joel Best

Wednesday, 01 Apr 2009 at 8:00 pm – South Ballroom, Memorial Union

Joel Best has written three books related to understanding statistics—Damned Lies and Statistics: Untangling Lies from Media, Politicians, and Activists, More Damned Lies and Statistics: How Numbers Confuse Public Issues, and Stat-Spotting: A Field-Guide to Identifying Dubious Data. A professor of sociology at the University of Delaware, he is a leading scholar of social problems and an advocate for statistical literacy. Dr. Best’s work on statistics focuses on the origin and life-course of statistical claims about social issues, how these claims are used by the media, politicians and activists, and how the public can better understand and evaluate these claims.
Dr. Best’s lecture will be an accessible and humorous overview and critique of the way statistics are used and misused in media and public discourse. He will illustrate his lecture with widely-publicized but questionable figures and argue that understanding the social construction of statistics provides a basis for critical thinking about numbers in the news.

Dr. Best is the author of several other books, including Threatened Children (1990), Random Violence (1999), Deviance: Concept of a Career (2004) and Flavor of the Month: Why Smart People Fall for Fads (2006). He is a former President of the Midwest Sociological Society and the Society for the Study of Social Problems, and a former Editor of the journal Social Problems. He is currently editor of Sociological Compass.

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This lecture was made possible in part by the generosity of F. Wendell Miller, who left his entire estate jointly to Iowa State University and the University of Iowa. Mr. Miller, who died in 1995 at age 97, was born in Altoona, Illinois, grew up in Rockwell City, graduated from Grinnell College and Harvard Law School and practiced law in Des Moines and Chicago before returning to Rockwell City to manage his family's farm holdings and to practice law. His will helped to establish the F. Wendell Miller Trust, the annual earnings on which, in part, helped to support this activity.

Cosponsored By:
  • LAS Miller Lecture Funds
  • Sociology
  • Statistics
  • Committee on Lectures (funded by GSB)