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Twisted Statistics In The Guardian Again

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As we know The Guardian, like much of the press, is produced by the arts graduates. Well, those who didn’t graduate into a career as a barista that is. Sadly it seems to be those without sufficient numeracy to survive at Starbucks that write the news for us.

For example, there’s a difference between the number of something and the rate of it. It’s a distinction which is really rather important. 100 people dying of lightning strikes is the number. 100 out of 65 million, 0.00015%m is the rate. To the families of those 100 the number is the important, erm, number, to society as a whole it’s that rate which is.

So it is with those killed by the police:

Trump twists stats on police brutality: ‘more white people’ are killed

He’s not twisted anything, he’s stated a fact.

In fact, studies have found that Black Americans are up to 3.5 times as likely to be killed by law enforcement

That is also true because that is the rate.

Donald Trump, in an interview aired Tuesday, pivoted when asked a question about the police killing of George Floyd, a Black American, which has sparked major national protests, to point out that white people also get killed by law enforcement in the US.

This is indeed true and it shows that the problem is with the police, not specifically race in either society or the police. We can go on and at least examine whether race is also a problem – that rate thing – but that the police top people with near impunity is indeed a problem whatever the skin colour of those dropped.

Then Herridge followed with: “Why are African Americans still dying at the hands of law enforcement?”

The president immediately pivoted.

“And so are white people. So are white people,” Trump said in response. “What a terrible question to ask. So are white people. More white people by the way. More white people.”

It’s true, more white people are killed by the police than black people are.

The Guardian’s investigative project The Counted in 2015-2016 that set out to record all people in the US killed by police showed that Black people in America were more than twice as likely to be killed by the police than white people.

That’s also true. The rate for blacks is higher than for whites.

We can even cross check this – always a useful thing to do with numbers. Blacks are some 13 to 14% of the US population. If the risk is more than 2 – say 2.5 – then that portion times risk will give us less of a total number than the 87% (this is to ignore Latino etc) times the lower risk. Both statements are true, more whites get killed by police, the black rate is higher.

Numbers, eh? Difficult things, obviously.

And yes, this is important too. Read back in the Guardian and other papers about Covid-19 deaths. We had a couple of weeks there where it switched from the death rate to the total number of deaths – without the little note pointing out that the US has a very much larger population than most other countries.

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