The heading for this post is a well-known saying about how numbers can bolster a weak argument depending on how they are interpreted. Add to the mix the use of anecdotal information that can be cited to bolster a point of view and we get to a couple of issues that I have been involved in several cyber-exchanges.

Someone sent an email providing the chart below showing the income distribution in the US by religion.

It shows that Hindus and Jews earn substantially more than do people of other faiths. The survey was conducted by Pew Research – a reputable polling organization – and I have no doubt that it is accurate. But the conclusions to be derived therefrom are what I found problematical. They ranged from suggestions that it is the values found in those faiths that accounted for the achievements of people of those faiths to even more blatant assertions of the superiority of the faiths in producing such results.

I suggested that the income variation among the Hindus in the US was almost entirely because the subset of those who emigrated to the US over the past forty years were a professional class and people in occupations that typically paid well. To read into it any suggestion that the income differential could be attributed to anything beyond that would be erroneous. The immigrants from the sub-continent who are Christians and Muslims are part of a larger aggregate consisting of people who may have emigrated from other countries and those who have been in the US over several generations. I suspect if there were specific statistics for Indian Christians or Indian Muslims it would probably show a similar income profile to that of Indian Hindus.

I went on to say: “A couple of generations hence, it will be more meaningful to see how second and third generation Indians-Americans who are fully absorbed into the mainstream of American life fare as a socio-economic group though even that will likely be diluted by inter-marriage and influenced by the parent’s socio-economic group, etc.”

But it is a classic example of how people can utilize statistics to prove anything they want. It would not surprise me if Hindutva groups used the above information to promote their agenda.

Which brings me to the use of anecdotal information to prove a point. I recently sent an email to a few people containing an excerpt from a link about the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada coming to the US for medical services. I suggested that his decision to seek medical intervention in the US as opposed to availing of Canada’s vaunted health care system would provide ammunition to those opposed to health care reform in the US. These opponents frequently cite the inadequacies in the health care systems in the UK and, to a lesser extent, Canada as being the reason why the US should be wary of following those models. Here is the excerpt I provided from a link called “My heart, my choice”:

“An unapologetic Danny Williams says he was aware his trip to the United States for heart surgery earlier this month would spark outcry, but he concluded his personal health trumped any public fallout over the controversial decision.

“This was my heart, my choice and my health,” Williams said late Monday from his condominium in Sarasota, Fla. “I did not sign away my right to get the best possible health care for myself when I entered politics.”

His doctors in Canada presented him with two options – a full or partial sternotomy, both of which would’ve required breaking bones, he said. He said he spoke with and provided his medical information to a leading cardiac surgeon in New Jersey who is also from Newfoundland and Labrador. He advised him to seek treatment at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami.

That’s where he was treated by Dr. Joseph Lamelas, a cardiac surgeon who has performed more than 8,000 open-heart surgeries.

Williams said Lamelas made an incision under his arm that didn’t require any bone breakage. “I wanted to get in, get out fast, get back to work in a short period of time,” the premier said.

Williams said he didn’t announce his departure south of the border because he didn’t want to create “a media gong show,” but added that criticism would’ve followed him had he chose to have surgery in Canada. “I would’ve been criticized if I had stayed in Canada and had been perceived as jumping a line or a wait list. … I accept that. That’s public life,” he said.

“(But) this is not a unique phenomenon to me. This is something that happens with lots of families throughout this country, so I make no apologies for that.” Williams said his decision to go to the U.S. did not reflect any lack of faith in his own province’s health care system.

“I have the utmost confidence in our own health care system in Newfoundland and Labrador, but we are just over half a million people,” he said.

“We do whatever we can to provide the best possible health care that we can in Newfoundland and Labrador. The Canadian health care system has a great reputation, but this is a very specialized piece of surgery that had to be done and I went to somebody who’s doing this three or four times a day, five, six days a week.” Williams also said he paid for the treatment, but added he would seek any refunds he would be eligible for in Canada.

“If I’m entitled to any reimbursement from any Canadian health care system or any provincial health care system, then obviously I will apply for that as anybody else would,” he said.

“But I wrote out the cheque myself and paid for it myself and to this point, I haven’t even looked into the possibility of any reimbursement. I don’t know what I’m entitled to, if anything, and if it’s nothing, then so be it.”

For a start, I don’t blame Williams one bit for seeking the best medical care he could get. But what it confirmed for me were two things:

First, the health care delivery system in the US is outstanding but what is problematical is the health care financing system in the US. The problem with millions of uninsured people, the spiralling costs of health care and the issues with insurance companies such as the lack of competition and treatment of pre-existing conditions, etc.

Second, it highlighted for me the hypocrisy of politicians like Williams who even as he avails of the best health care available to him even if it is in the US, still tries to promote the health care available in Canada. It begs the question: if health care services are as good as Williams claims why would he not have sought the care he needed in some other province within Canada rather than in the US? It certainly is not the money since he was able to afford the cost of the medical services in the US!

As health care reform again takes center stage, the hope is that in fixing the problems we don’t undermine the excellent health care delivery system we currently have in the US.

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2 Responses to ““Lies, damned lies and statistics”!”

  1. Bava says:


  2. TJ says:

    Much of the reason for the inertia on the part of the American population when it comes to health care reform is the fact that the 85% who are covered by some form of insurance are relatively happy with what they have. It may be derived from group health insurance through an employer or Medicare and takes care of the needs of these people. So they are particularly vulnerable to misinformation and disinformation from opponents of health care reform in terms of how it will affect their existing coverage adversely.

    If one were to ask the 15% who are not covered or are under-insured or cannot get suitable coverage because of pre-existing conditions they would be receptive to reform.

    A single anecdote – namely the Premier of Newfoundland seeking medical services – does not demonstrate a systemic problem in Canada but it does beg the question as to why he would not seek the service elsewhere in Canada if he could get the same quality of care that he felt he could get in Miami, FL.

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