Monday, April 30, 2007

Fun With Numbers: How To Pass Off Total BS As Interesting Information

Some fun numbers came out today.

Terrorist attacks worldwide shot up 25 percent last year, particularly in
Iraq where extremists used chemical weapons and suicide bombers to target crowds, according to a new State Department report.

To which I say... what else is new? If we go back to the data from the US State Departments "Patterns of Global Terrorism" (which was our way of tracking this data from 1985-2003) we see the following pattern* when looking at "percent changes".

See? In 1995 there was a 37% increase in 1999 there was a 43% increase... but in 1996 there was a 32% decrease and in 2002 we had a 42% decrease... what does all this mean? not much. These numbers are pretty much as useless as they've always been.

have a look* at the total number of terrorist attacks from 1985-2003:

I think we can all see the "trend" here... The interesting thing is, that since 2004 the numbers are no longer collected this way.. so we have no way of seeing how this trend continues... I guess it must have been hard to justify a "War on Terror" when terror is shown to be on the decline by your own numbers... very tiny numbers too, I might add. The 2006 State Department report shows 14,000 terrorist attacks... using whatever this new methodology is... that's only a 6793.27% increase over the 208 attacks accounted for with the 2003 methodology.

I could rant about this for hours.. but instead, I'd just like to close with some perspective.. The media and politicians are going to be throwing this 25% increase around like it actually means something, it doesn't. In these 14,000 attacks there were just over 20,000 dead. that's less than 1.5 people per attack... while tragic and horrible... not very efficient. This is what we're scared of? This is what we're waging a war against? This is what we're spending HUNDREDS OF BILLIONS of dollars on? 20,000 dead?

- 1.2 MILLION people world wide died in car accidents last year
- Malaria kills more than a million people worldwide each year
- In 2005 alone, AIDS claimed an estimated 2.4–3.3 million lives, of which more than 570,000 were children.

I don't know what else to say... The government monkeys with these useless numbers.. that even when grossly inflated, still show nothing worth fighting... at least not on this scale. And the media is going to chew on this crap for weeks.

Am I completely missing something here?

* please forgive my crappy graphs... not something I do very often.. the data is right out of the government documents.. and I have the spreadsheet I used to create the graphs if anyone wants it.


kate said...

I still don't understand how an attack within a nation that is at war, during war time is considered a terrorist attack. Are our military actions carried out within Iraq considered terrorist attacks? It makes no sense.

Dan B said...

It's a very freaking complex process and the amount of subjectivity and room for error is almost funny.

"politically motivated violence"

and given some of the definitions in here, some of the US governments actions should be counted.