Fake news, what is it?


To the Editor:

All the media outlets seem to be focusing on the most irrelevant issues, e.g., whether Elizabeth Warren is an American Indian, whether Brett Kavanaugh attempted to force a young woman to have sex with him in high school or college, or whether then-presidential candidate Barack Obama was a native-born American citizen. Are these the questions the American public should be focusing on at this time?

What about the need for an Electoral College, the way to better control use of guns, or the economy, to which scant attention is paid? It is not a question of whether the news is being honestly reported, but rather what news is being reported.

As a statistician, I find it also egregious that an improper use of statistics is being utilized to “prove” that something is true. A statistic only has validity if it has been tested according to established procedures. But because many American people are not knowledgeable about the mathematics involved, either through long-held fear or lack of experience, they fall prey to information asserted to be a verification of what is being advocated.

Some examples: If 1 out of 4 people have illegally entered the United States, does this mean that 25 percent of undocumented immigrants are criminals? Or if a restaurant chain is found to have an ill employee preparing food, should the chain be closed? Or if a visitor to a major city is a victim of a scam, should the city be written up as an unsafe place to visit?

Before statistics can be utilized to attempt to validate some advocated position, Americans must be provided sufficient familiarity with the technique to make clear decisions. As was said in the past, “statistics don’t lie, but liars use statistics.”

Abe Seiman

Oak Bluffs