29 November, 2005

Some recruiters don't learn

One of the harms of innumeracy is that people hear statistics and just believe them. Sometimes this causes people to do badly on the GRE. Other times it convinces them to sign up to kill and die:
Recruiter: "It's dangerous. But it's dangerous walking down the street downtown Cincinnati too. You see what I'm saying? You have just as much chance of getting shot downtown as you would over there."

The truth is, even if you combine downtown Cincinnati and the surrounding communities, fewer than 200 people have been shot over the past three years. In Iraq during that time, 1,373 U.S. servicemen and women have been shot -- 346 have died.
This is definitely the most amusing and distressing piece of investigative reporting I've heard out of U.S. commercial television in quite a while. And note: The recruiters quoted in this story were all speaking after the scandal six months ago when the same station caught recruiters lying to get kids to enlist. So are they still lying? Let's do something I would not normally do -- let the TV station be the judge:*
Recruiter: "You're going to have people getting killed. You have more people murdered in Cincinnati in a day than you have in Iraq killed in a day. OK, I don't like to throw out statistics though, you know what I mean? But it's true."

According to statistics from the Cincinnati Police Department and Department of Defense, that comment is not true. Since Operation Iraqi Freedom began in March of 2003, 192 people have been murdered in Cincinnati -- an average of one person every five days.

In Iraq, nearly two U.S. troops are killed every day. Over the past 2 1/2 years, 2,000 U.S. servicemen and women have died -- 15,000 more have been wounded.
A friend of mine who is a teacher says the underfunding of education is just an effort to create more cannon-fodder for the endless wars. I want to tell her she's exaggerating. But if she's wrong, why do these recruiters do such a good job making her look right?

* That will teach me a damn lesson about trusting the TV people. While they properly debunk the idea that Cinci is as dangerous as Baghdad, they don't go nearly far enough. There are two ways in which the numbers are deceptive. First, talking just about Americans, there are 150,000 troops in Iraq. At about 75 killings a month, that's about a 1/2,000 chance of getting killed this month. There were 317,000 residents (never mind visitors and commuters) in Cincinnati in 2000. At about 6.5 killings a month, assuming they are all residents, that's about a 1/50,000 chance of getting killed this month. A big difference.

But why talk about only Americans in Iraq? The recruiter was talking about the number of "people" who are "killed in a day." The most comprehensive study of the issue had 100,000 Iraqis dead after 18 months of conflict -- about 6,000 per month in a population of about 25 million. That means Iraqis have about a 1 in 4,000 chance of being killed each month.

This all reminds us of why we don't look to TV for careful analysis. This sort of number-play makes bad enough Internet. It's awful TV.


I don't know about cannon fodder for endless wars, but definitely cannon fodder for terrible, terrible voting ideas and not so wonderful corporations. You've seen the statistics on how hideously bad Republican policies are for most voters in red states. And yet--they just get more and more popular. I grew up reading The Little House on the Prairie, which at one point spelled out the basic math education of the time in excruciating detail. I can't help but feel that Pa Ingalls would have had a mathematical leg up on most of today's voters in Kansas and South Dakota.

And of course, if you make the mistake of silently telling people that the recruiters lie, you get arrested at your own public university campus .  

Posted by Saheli

For some reason I didn't see your footnote before. I just assumed you were taking it for granted like I was that the TV Station was being willfully parochial in its focused concern about only American life, and playing along with those ground rules. :-) I mean, duh. It's local TV news. OF COURSE only American life matters. Local American life, even better. Unless, of course, it's cute foreign babies being adopted by locals.

Snark aside, I'm glad it's on the TV stations. I just wish more parents made their kids at least watch the news with them. . .


Posted by Saheli

it's not that simple to say republican votes are based on ignorance of stats. larry bartels wrote "what's the matter with 'what's the matter with kansas'?" (blog summary ) to demonstrate this.

additionally, there's the tax payments/receipts issue - that "red" states generally give the feds less than they get back in cash, and blue states give more. one explanation of this that i've seen is just flat out bribery. another, to which i'm partial, is that people living outside of cities rarely understand how much of money that cities pay for things like services and welfare and such comes from the cities' own pockets  and is not pulled from the pool of federal or even state taxes. people see cities spending like crazy and figure it must be welfare queen theft because it's so much more than spent in exurbs and hinterlands. not realizing that cities largely exist because they (and the cost reduction models they represent/depend on) are EXTREMELY PROFITABLE.

on the other hand i often worry about losing an arm or a leg when i pass through cincinnati. the local political scene is brutal. 

Posted by chromo

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