Dilbert cartoon about statistics

What are statistics?


Can you tell how many leaves are on this tree by looking at this branch?

“Statistics are the practice or science of collecting and analyzing numerical data in large quantities, especially for the purpose of inferring proportions in a whole from those in a representative sample.”

In layman’s terms, that means you can take a single small limb from a tree, count how many leaves are on it and by deduction, calculate how many leaves are on the entire tree. It’s important to realize that basis, because it is a great way to estimate how many leaves are actually on the tree, but it IS NOT literally counting every single leaf and coming up with a scientific conclusion of how many leaves exist on a specific tree on a specific date at a specific point in time. Get it?

All of this means that statistics can serve us well because it allows us to come up with some fascinating numbers that are beneficial (and fun). It also means that statistics can have an adverse impact on our society and personal lives because we rely on statistics to make major decisions in our lives.  It means we have to be more DISCERNING when we read information.

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Here is a headline All Humans Who Eat Will Die. The article is 100% true. It is a scientific fact. However, does it make any sense at all?

Yes, I created this headline myself. It’s silly. But, it is totally representative of the world in which we live where we are driven by headlines and statistics that have been manipulated to benefit a specific industry, product or interest group.


The latest headlines by the World Health Organization regarding bacon and processed meat is a great example. We totally agree that processed meats are bad… but the way the statistics are being presented, it is “red meat” that is the culprit. It doesn’t address the role that nitrites play or even the fact that most red meats are now so polluted with antibiotics and other chemicals that while it is easy to just lump it all in and say “red meat”, we need to use our brains and really figure out what the statistics are saying.

That’s where the subterfuge comes in. Please say that you do know that there are some statistics that are blatantly manipulated in order for someone to financially profit. In fact, just this year a group of students from the Carter Institute of Journalism researched FDA Inspection Reports from 1998 to 2013. The FDA is responsible for inspecting clinical trial locations that conduct research on human participants to make sure they are engaging in good clinical practices. When they aren’t they can be classified as “official action indicated” or OAI or “voluntary action indicated” or VAI. OAI is reserved for severe forms of clinical trial violations.

The students found 60 clinical trials that had received OAI classifications, and these trials had been used for data in 78 published articles. Out of those 78 studies, only three included mentions of the violations found by the FDA! How serious were the violations? In one trial, patients were being treated with stem cells for poor blood flow in a leg and the trial reported that ALL patients showed improvement in their limbs… even though one person had to have a foot amputated two weeks after treatment. Read more about this story here >>

One thing that does tend to make a person, company or product show their true colors is time. It’s hard to deceive people for a long time. So, if there is a fact or a statistic that has stood the test of time, that is a really good indicator that it has some truth to it. That’s one reason we love Shaklee. Do you know about Shaklee’s 100-year history? You should. Read about it here >>