Innumeracy, part one

Tell me what is \”wrong\” with the second paragraph of this quote from What\’s fueling Bible Belt divorces:

Southern men and women had higher rates of divorce in 2009 than their counterparts in other parts of the country: 10.2 per 1,000 for men and 11.1 per 1,000 for women, according to a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau released Thursday.

By comparison, men and women in the Northeast had the lowest rates of divorce, 7.2 and 7.5 per 1,000, which is also lower than the national divorce rate of 9.2 for men and 9.7 for women.

Did the writer(s) and editor(s) of this piece not realize that the \”national divorce rate\” means \”the average rate of divorce\”? And did they not realize the lowest number of those being averaged must, unless the numbers being averaged are all of an equal value, by definition be lower than average?

This mistake does not negate the observations made in these opening paragraphs–that the divorce rates in the South are not only higher than those in the Northeast they are higher than the national divorce rate. But it does lead this reader to wonder how well those involved understood the data made available by the U.S. Census Bureau. How well would they be able to understand the simplest of statistical analyses of the data made available?

It also gives me some clue as to why so many Americans find it almost impossible to make reasoned judgements about matters of science. Not only do people who are scientifically illiterate and mathematically innumerate do the gatekeeping and the reporting of scientific news the years of reading such reports results in a systemic deskilling of many of people reading them.


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