Politicians and Lazy Reporters Will Always Spread Disinformation

bad-data-correlation-or-causation
The statistics here are correct. Two million people who exposed themselves to drinking water will die this year. But is this useful information?

The following article is printed in full from The WGN News (Chicago):

Chicago NOT most dangerous U.S. city, new report says

CHICAGO — It’s common knowledge that Chicago is one of the nation’s most dangerous cities when it comes to gun violence.
But that’s only because it has one of the highest populations.
A non-profit news outlet that focuses on gun coverage called The Trace, found that in gun violence per capita, Chicago isn’t even in the top 10 — or the top 15.
Miami, Washington, D.C. and other metro areas are worse.
And here are the absolute worst: New Orleans is on top, followed by Detroit, St. Louis, Baltimore and Oakland.
You have to go all the way down to number 18 to find Chicago, right behind Pittsburgh.
The report points out that Chicago does have the most homicides but its murder rate per capita is one third as high as New Orleans.
In another report, Trace detailed that in 2016,  Chicago had a rate of 27.9 killings per 100,000 residents — half that of St. Louis, whose 188 murders amounted to 59.3 homicides per 100,000 people and preserved that city’s status as America’s murder capital.
Chicago recorded 762 homicides, and more than 3,000 shooting incidents in 2016 — the most in more than two decades.

Chicago’s needs to cope with the violence that plagues it. There is no argument against this; the numbers are abhorrent. I am not trying in any way to minimize the gunplay in my city last year. Rather I do, however, want to question the statistics that are being printed, broadcasted and decried by a number of politicians.

There is something very wrong with the way these numbers are presented, interpreted and shared. The statement that Chicago had 762 homicide deaths by firearms during 2016 is accurate, but can we say this is the most meaningful statistic?

Chicago had 762 homicides during all of 2016 while St. Louis had only 188. To add a little fuel to the fire, Baltimore reported 318. Therefore, using the raw numbers, Chicago would seem to be four times as dangerous as St. Louis and more than twice as dangerous as baltimore.

Let’s apply this logic one more time.  During 2015, Illinois had 25,652 deaths due to heart disease, while Iowa had only 6,813. Should we Illinoisans pack up in a hurry and move to Iowa? Isn’t that what these numbers are telling us? Or maybe there’s more to it.

At this point it is important that we realize that every number I have used is a valid statistic. Nothing faked here at all. Even so, the problem with this method is that it makes us draw the wrong conclusions when we try to make comparisons. We desperately need, in all cases, to use the appropriate statistic –to pick from all the numbers and tables published just those numbers that are not only correct, but are also meaningful.

The newspaper article above tells us that in these cases the raw statistics have to be factored by their occurrence per 100,000 population.

When we compare correctly, last year Chicago came in at 18th place, meaning 17 cities were more dangerous. But we rarely hear of them. Donald Trump loves to single out Chicago as the murder capital of the country. Very bad, he says. Somebody needs to whisper in his ear that he is living in a city more dangerous than Chicago. Washington, D.C. was #13 on the list of worst cities. The example of heart disease comes out the same way, so I won’t go through the exercise of explaining it.

No, Chicago does not have shootings under control. And it is not as simple as catching the shooters and putting them in jail. Until whole neighborhoods are rid of despair and unjust economic barriers, there will always be a new generation of shooters who quickly rise to take their predecessors places.

But in the meantime, let’s no distort the facts. They are simple enough to dig up if anyone cares enough to do so.

There are more murders in Chicago each year than in New York and Los Angeles combined. But it isn’t the deadliest large city in America.

To those who read this post, I apologize for its length. If I had thought of an appropriate way, I would have made it shorter.

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