Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Gettin' Funky with those Statistics?

Interesting use of statistics and spin (I found mention of this article at Michael Pahl's blog; my thoughts are what follows) here: in an article on the "" website entitled "Ivy League Schools See Rise in Evangelical Students".

From the article:
"More Evangelicals are attending Ivy League universities where spiritual interest is growing more than ever..."

That sounds interesting.

"....there are more Evangelicals going to places like Harvard, Dartmouth, Princeton, Yale, than there were in the past."

Okay. But (Devil's advocate, me...!) if there is only one more "Evangelical" at Harvard today than there was in 1990, we indeed have a true statement. When reading between the lines like this, I don't find much that is awe-inspiring. We haven't much impressive data to chew on so far.

"The number of students involved with Campus Crusade for Christ rose 163 percent over the past 20 years at Brown University."

Wow. 163 percent! Very impressive. But, hey... Wait a second. So, we are talking about an increase, which occurred 'over the past 20 years'? A twenty-year time-span is an awfully long time. If we had an increase like this over let's say, the last 5 years, we would be talking about something different. But over 20 years?

"At Harvard, participation has grown more than 500 percent and 700 percent at Yale."

Again, things sound impressive, at first glance. And yet, it appears we are talking about another 20-year-span again. Even if Yale had 1
"Evangelical" in 1990, and now they have 5 (or 6?), we could say there was a "500 percent" increase. Ho-hum. Not much to see here. Moving along.

Finally, there is a paragraph that includes comparisons between
member campuses of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU), and all public four-year campuses, all independent four-year campuses, and all independent religious four-year campuses.
But here again, we have a fourteen-year-time span. In 14 years many other cultural, socialogical, economic, or what have you, issues can come into play and explain these changes. I can't help but feel some suspicion.

Where's more of the raw data? (Where are some actual numbers?) Where is a graph that displays for us what happened throughout this impressive and sunny twenty-year-period? (Or the rosey fourteen-year-period?) The complete lack of such data indicates to me the distinct possibility that during more recent years there might have been a decrease, because if the numbers had been increasing, this information would have been — almost undoubtedly — shown to us; probably trumpeted, even!

The fact that the author(/s) need to reach back twenty or fourteen years, and then all data for the intervening years is omitted too, raises other questions.
I begin to wonder: Why? Why is there a need to write about this in this way? Could it be that the recent trend is actually negative? ...perhaps so negative that someone feels the need to take advantage of the last opportunity to put a positive spin on the data before the most up-to-date numbers fall below where the numbers from twenty years ago?

Honestly, I don't want to be so cynical. But after these last 5 years I can't help it.

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