The Perils and Pitfalls of Statistical Analysis

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This is mostly in the pointless frivolity category, but the chart below from Matt Glassman shows total annual volume of email received by Congress since 1996. Matt has a few observations about what this all means, which you should read, but what I’m curious about is the huge drop in 2008-09. What happened? Matt says it’s a technical artifact: “The large peak in 2007 and the drop-off following it are almost certainly due to the explosion of more intelligent spam and the corresponding adoption of powerful new and improved spam filters in both chambers that year.”

If that’s true — and corroboration would be welcome from anyone with working knowledge of this stuff — it’s an object lesson in statistical analysis. Land mines are everywhere! If you saw this chart and concluded, say, that the financial crisis had somehow wiped out people’s desire to email their congresscritters, and then built an elaborate theory around that guess, you’d be totally wrong. It would be a perfectly reasonable theory, but it would be wrong. In reality, nothing interesting happened at all. Caveat emptor.

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REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

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