Comment: Masturbating with Numbers

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Masturbating with Numbers

Nice. Fifteen-year-old-girls rule.

I was particularly taken with her argument that two times as many Chicago citizen die from gunshots as U.S. combatants in Afghanistan.

I would like to point out that the fatality numbers most often cited, and I believe cited in this girl's address, are ONLY U.S. fatalities.

It's masturbating with numbers to compare U.S. war fatalities to U.S. homicide rates. (I'm not criticizing this girl for the comparison, but the of media reports that keep doing so.)

If we wish to compare U.S. gun fatalities with gun fatalities in war, we have to include both sides and all those caught between.

Take a look at how PBS's Mark Sheilds stokes his numbers to make the argument that all the guns in the hands of U.S. citizens amount to more killing than all the wars since 1968.

"You know, Judy, the reality is -- and it's a terrible reality -- since Robert Kennedy died in the Ambassador Hotel on June 4, 1968, more Americans have died from gunfire than died in … all the wars of this country's history, from the Revolutionary through the Civil War, World War I, World War II, in those 43 years. ... I mean, guns are a problem. And I think they still have to be confronted."

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/politics/july-dec12/shieldsge... (Comment at minute 10:30)

If Sheilds, or anyone misusing numbers this way, wishes to discount most of the victims of the wars that the U.S. has been involved in in the last 45 years, that's fine, but they'd better decide which part of the victims of domestic gun fatalities need to be tossed aside to make the comparison valid.

Such number abuse means that we throw out the hundreds of thousands (millions?) of fatal Iraqi victims, Afghan victims, Vietnam victims and all the "little wars" in between.

PolitiFact rates Shield's comment and comparison True.

"Since Shields’ comparison was otherwise accurate, with about 1.4 million firearm deaths to 1.2 million in war [since 1968], we rated his claim True."

Sure, if you think only Americans died.

On homeground we have to count them all. To make the comparison legit, you have to count them all. Far more Vietnamese, and Iraqis, and Afghans died in those wars than Americans.

Shield's argues we have a problem with guns at home by failing to account by the bulk of war fatalities, by being so parochial that only Americans count as dead on foreign soil. Absurd. By that logic, you'd have to toss out all the "bad" people who got shot in the U.S. and your definition of "bad" would be anyone against you, which, I'm guessing most of the people who shot those "bad" people pretty much believed were against them -- however perverted their logic.

This pisses me off. I barely got through college stats with an B and I can tell you that's a misuse of numbers and a shame for anyone claiming any intellectual acumen to even utter, let alone not be all over the air apologizing for. I'm writing to Mr. Shields right now. He's not the only one, just the one I fixated on because I kinda like the guy.