You can’t believe 1 percent of what 50 percent say

It has been said that there are three types of lies: Lies, damned lies and statistics. Polling has found that 58 percent of people believe that quote is from Mark Twain. The other 57 percent believe it’s from British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli.

Actually, Twain used the quote and attributed it to Disraeli, although there is no direct attribution that it came out that way from Disraeli. But, really, since the Internet was invented by Al Gore in an igloo, attribution has become pretty much irrelevant. We have folks in this country ready to shoot folks over completely made-up stuff “I seen on the Interwebs.”

As a former journalist, truth is fairly important to me. Statistics, though, not so much. There can be an awful lot of lies and damned lies buried beneath statistics.

For instance, a recent Pew poll found that 65 percent of Americans believe there is intelligent life on other planets. Interestingly, that number is highest among those in the 18-29 age range at 76 percent and steadily declines with each older age group, culminating in just 56 percent of those over 65 believing there is intelligent life on other planets.

Pew should have followed up that question with, “Do you believe there is intelligent life on this planet?” I suspect that number would be much lower. And then there are many folks like me — 89 percent — who answered, “Well, I don’t know how intelligent life on other planets might be, but it couldn’t be much dumber.”

I’m not really a numbers guy anyway. I’m a word dude. I think numbers are inherently evil and have felt that way since my eight-grade algebra class when they started mixing numbers and letters together. That kind of miscegenation just goes against them old-timey morals where I grew up.

While I don’t like numbers and wouldn’t be able to solve or recognize a quadratic equation if I stepped on one in the backyard, I do recognize that statistics can help us understand the way things work. Allow me to demonstrate. Here are a few recent statistics that should help you understand our world today.

  • More than 99 percent of COVID deaths in the U.S. today are occurring among the unvaccinated. The other 1 percent of COVID deaths are among those who took the free vaccine that comes with each My Pillow purchase.

  • Nearly 20 percent of Americans believe in the central tenets of Qanon. And 90 percent of these folks will kill you if you tell their children Santa isn’t real, while 10 percent believe Santa is Q.

  • Fourteen percent of workers continue to telework. The number could be higher, but 45 percent were taking an afternoon nap while pretending to be in a webinar when we tried to contact them.

  • Gen Z has the highest rate of interacting with media content about climate change. Meanwhile, 84 percent of people who have a 100 percent chance of not being on the planet in 50 years don’t care.

  • Nearly 99 percent of statements by white people that begin “I’m not a racist, but …” are followed by racist comments.

  • About 70 percent of CPAC attendees in a straw poll picked Donald Trump as their preferred GOP nominee in 2024. That can’t be right. I’m sure they don’t want the only person to lose the popular vote twice to make it 0-for-3. I’ll get back to you on that one after it is fact-checked — something Marjorie Taylor-Greene hates 100 percent of the time.

  • And 87 percent of statistics you see from newspaper humor columnists are 100 percent untrustworthy.

I hope that this column is 47 percent more helpful than most of my work.

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