Friday, April 14, 2006

Fun with Statistics: Racism Bad; Books Good

From Richard Morin:

Republicans are 25% more likely than usual to vote Democratic when the Republican candidate is black; voter turnout remains unchanged.
Democrats are 38% more likely than usual to vote Republican when the Democratic candidate is black, but voter turnout increases significantly.
Anybody who mentions one statistic without noting the other one is a partisan hack and vile propagandist.

The researchers found that a child from a family having 500 books at home scored, on average, 112 points higher on the achievement test than one from an otherwise identical family having only one book -- and that's after they factored in parents' education, occupation, income and other things typically associated with a child's academic performance.
They also found that not all books are created equal. "Having Shakespeare or similar highbrow books about bodes well for children's achievement," they wrote. "Having poetry books around is actively harmful by about the same amount," perhaps because it signals a "Bohemian" lifestyle that may encourage kids to become guitar-strumming, poetry-reading dreamers.
Umm.... some of us "guitar-strumming, poetry-reading dreamers" are pretty academically advanced, fellas. And, last time I checked, Shakespeare wrote poetry.


Penny L. Richards said...

The problem with Morin's mention of that report is that I'm left asking: 112 out of how many --1000? 700? It gives the average score as 500, but no sense of the total possible points.

I grew up in a house full of National Dragster magazines, ancient National Geographics, an incomplete grocery-store encyclopedia set and some Nancy Drew books--how would that bode?

I'd also ask if they classed the Psalms as poetry. Oh, those free-style hippie guitar-strummers with their Bibles....

Ahistoricality said...

Well, it's an average, of course: I'm sure there are kids who grew up in veritable libraries who scored lower than you would have at that age.

I had sort of the same reaction to the scores, but that's more Morin's reportage than the study (which I'm sure has that kind of detail in it), and given the apparent scale, 112 points is clearly a huge effect.

Their fine-tuning, though, as you note, is pretty blunt... Apparently their statistics are better than their literary skills...