# Books: Fact-check, Mate

Joel Best’s Stat-Spotting: A Field Guide to Identifying Dubious Data, belongs on the nightstand of anyone who regularly encounters statistics—which is to
say, everyone. In my line of work as a fact-checker, the book’s case studies are

Take, for example, this health
statistic, repeated on a number of websites: Each year, 20,000 people die from
taking aspirin.

Best proffers a number of tips that challenge this factoid’s accuracy.

#1: If something sounds too shocking to be true, it probably is.

Check.

#2: Make sure sources aren’t biased.

The stat appears on a site titled What Doctors Don’t Tell You and a page promoting magnetic therapy as an alternative to (you guessed it) aspirin.

#3: Look for “botched translations”—numbers simplified to the point of inaccuracy.

Checking in with the FDA (a trusted source that appears to be the original), we find that an estimated 10,000-20,000 people die a year from NSAID (Nonsteroidal Inflammatory Drugs) complications. Aspirin is indeed an NSAID, but so are several other drugs, including ibuprofen. So this figure unfairly singles out aspirin, omits the “complications” modifier, and uses the highest figure from a broad number range. It’s also a stat from 1999.

Mate.

This example illustrates just how easy it is for a number to be misrepresented, and how it can quickly take on a life of its own. And Best reveals how even major publications and news networks propagate misinformation.

It’s tempting after reading Stat-Spotting to throw up your hands and turn against data entirely. But the tome successfully shows how to sort the muck from the truth, which is out there. And as Best says, “We need quantitative data—statistics—to guide us.”

In other words, we need stats to make sense of the world. We just need to know how to make sense of the stats.

### WE CAME UP SHORT.

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### WE CAME UP SHORT.

We just wrapped up a shorter-than-normal, urgent-as-ever fundraising drive and we came up about \$45,000 short of our \$300,000 goal.

That means we're going to have upwards of \$350,000, maybe more, to raise in online donations between now and June 30, when our fiscal year ends and we have to get to break-even. And even though there's zero cushion to miss the mark, we won't be all that in your face about our fundraising again until June.

So we urgently need this specific ask, what you're reading right now, to start bringing in more donations than it ever has. The reality, for these next few months and next few years, is that we have to start finding ways to grow our online supporter base in a big way—and we're optimistic we can keep making real headway by being real with you about this.

Because the bottom line: Corporations and powerful people with deep pockets will never sustain the type of journalism Mother Jones exists to do. The only investors who won’t let independent, investigative journalism down are the people who actually care about its future—you.

And we hope you might consider pitching in before moving on to whatever it is you're about to do next. We really need to see if we'll be able to raise more with this real estate on a daily basis than we have been, so we're hoping to see a promising start.