Monday, May 17, 2010

If Figures Don't Lie, Who Does?

64% of all statistics are made up! And that's a conservative estimate. 26% of the population actually think that the true number is higher although 47% think the number is lower. *

Now I can usually tell if a statistic is accurate or not because I believe in Hirshman's Law of Statistical Probability. Hirshman's Law of Statistical Probability states:

When people claim statistical figures on information that is next to impossible (improbable) to obtain, it is probably bunk.

And this is true 87% of the time. Of course, if the subject is the Chareidi world, it is true 98% of the time. Why?

Because 76% of the people you ask will not have an inkling on how to define what is a chareidi.

I will get back to this point shortly but first, a little insight as to what statistics is all about. And for this, we can learn a lot from our Amaleiki cousins (Yimach shmam v'zichram).

In the sanctity of my most intimate chambers, I am working through a book that is fascinating as it is tediously boring titled IBM and the Holocaust. The book discusses how the Nazi campaign to annihilate the Jews could not have been so efficiently executed without the technology for census and statistics that was provided all throughout the war from American based IBM.

Here is a brief excerpt from the introduction:

Mankind barely noticed when the concept of massively organized information quietly emerged to become a means of social control, a weapon of war, and a roadmap for group destruction. The unique igniting event was the most fateful day of the last century, January 30, 1933, the day Adolf Hitler came to power. Hitler and his hatred of the Jews was the ironic driving force behind this intellectual turning point. But his quest was greatly enhanced and energized by the ingenuity and craving for profit of a single American company and its legendary, autocratic chairman. That company was International Business Machines, and its chairman was Thomas J. Watson.

I was haunted by a question whose answer has long eluded historians. The Germans always had the lists of Jewish names. Suddenly, a squadron of grim-faced SS would burst into a city square and post a notice demanding those listed assemble the next day at the train station for deportation to the East. But how did the Nazis get the lists? For decades, no one has known. Few have asked.

The answer: IBM Germany's census operations and similar advanced people counting and registration technologies. IBM was founded in 1898 by German inventor Herman Hollerith as a census tabulating company. Census was its business. But when IBM Germany formed its philosophical and technologic alliance with Nazi Germany, census and registration took on a new mission. IBM Germany invented the racial census--listing not just religious affiliation, but bloodline going back
generations. This was the Nazi data lust. Not just to count the Jews--but
to identify them.

©2001-2010 Edwin Black
All Rights Reserved. Reprinted here under Article 17 of Intl. Copyright Law.

So we note that to compile statistical information there are two primary stipulations:

  • An accurate method of counting - In other words, you have to know how to count
  • Identifying the subject - In other words, you have to know what to count
Let's illustrate. Suppose we want to know if redheads are more prone to committing murders than non-redheads. We will need three things:

  • A definition of "murder"
  • A population of such murderers
  • A definition of a "redhead"

Now, the first 2 items may be relatively easy to come by. First, let's define murder any which way and then check the prisons to see how many inmates were convicted for whatever we defined as murder. After that, all we need to do is tabulate how many of them are redheads and check their proportion against the national average. Simple!

But, what's a redhead? Does a reddish brown count? Does a strawberry blonde count? Is it somebody who was nicknamed "Gingi"? Do they need freckles to go with it or not? What about somebody who used to be red but is now brown (or gray or bald)?

This assignment may be tougher than we think.

When it comes to compiling statistics about the chareidim we face similar challenges. And I will repeat what I said earlier that 83% of the population has no idea on how to define a chareidi. I wrote about this at length in my book.

In my book, I discussed that two of the most widely acclaimed academic ethnographers, Professor Samuel C. Heilman of Queens College and Professor Noah J. Efron of Bar Ilan University, both wrote complete volumes about the "Haredi" entity without presenting a definition anywhere in their books. I was able to excuse Prof. Heilman for it because he was not comparing the chareidim to another population. But Prof. Noah J. Efron I could not excuse. Here is what I wrote:

In contrast to my stated vindications of the other authors, Prof. Efron cannot be excused for overlooking this essential issue. This is because in the course of his work, Efron is compelled to play the numbers game. Hence, innocently tucked away on page 90, in the course of his discussion on educational funding, Efron casually declares one of the most pivotal statements of that section of his thesis as an undisputed established fact, “Haredim represent approximately 7 percent of the population…” [emphasis mine – YH]. This chapter is not the place to deal with the integrity of this figure,[4] yet it escapes me as to how we can assess the quantity of chareidim if we are not apprised as to what constitutes a chareidi to begin with?[5]

Pay special attention to footnote [4]. Here is the text of the footnote:

[4]Suffice it to say that the Israeli government has not conducted an official census since 1995 and the next one is scheduled for 2008. The best current indicator that we have is the electorate. In the two previous elections (2003 and 2006) the combined constituency of the two chareidi parties, UTJ and SHAS, were 16 and 18 seats respectively. Even the lower figure reflects representation of over 13 percent of the population. Bear in mind that the chareidim [exclusively] include some factions that maintain that it is Halachically forbidden to vote! Additionally, Efron himself notes on the following page that the chareidi population is child-heavy which means that a greater proportion of the chareidi population is below voting age. Also note that Efron writes on page 145 that “the purchasing power of the Hareidi community … is somewhere along the line of 15-20 percent of the population.” Not bad purchasing power for a mere 7 percent, the poorest to boot!

After I wrote all this, I reached page 242 where the percentage magically changed to “one in ten Israelis”. That’s a 43% increase over the 7 percent on page 90.

Seven per cent, ten per cent...what's the difference? (I know- 43%!)

Let's check out footnote [5]:

[5]This same problem haunts us to the very conclusion of his book. On page 273, 2 pages before the finish line, he writes, “…according to Boston University economist Eli Berman, for almost 25 years, rates of childbirth among the ultra-Orthodox have been 2 ½ to 3 ½ times as great as secular birthrates. Yet… the populations of ultra-Orthodox relative to secular have grown far less than childbirth rates would suggest. To parse this data accurately would require complicated analysis and the collection of new data…” Don’t you think it might also require a clear definition as to what counts as ultra-Orthodox? It’s been 273 pages and we still haven’t got one.

Don't hold your breath for one, either.

My point is that even before you know how to do your counting, you have to know what to count. The Nazis knew this. Efron doesn't.

This brings me to the point of this post. One of my favorite blogs seems to be making much ado about a report published by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel. He is obviously taking the whole dessert made out of artificial ingredients and swallowing it whole. Then copying the recipe and serving it to all his unsuspecting guests.

The Taub Center makes a number of scurrilous (or is that spurious?) claims. (1) One is that the percentage of haredi men between the ages of 35-54 who are non-employed is 65%. Secondly, this is double the amount from three decades ago. It also mentioned something about welfare payments going up 400% in three decades and juxtaposed it as if it is related.

Now, Hirshman's Law of Statistical Probability cannot sustain these claims. Especially since (1) a recent finding was released by the Central Bureau of Statistics with noticably different figures (2) it is doubtful that there can be accurate data about the haredim from three decades back because, three decades ago, the term "Haredi" was not the umbrella term that is used today and (3) there are barely any welfare payments here in Israel (though there are numerous welfare services).

I noticed a few other holes in this study and even commented about it (first HERE and then HERE). But I suppose as much as there are chareidi apologists, there are at least 58% more silly statistics apologists. "Oh for sure," everybody seems to claim, "they must have used very scientific methods of compiling their data."

So, I said to myself, why not check this out? So I contacted the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel (a local call). I dialed the extension for Prof. Dan Ben-David but I reached Hedva Elmackias who told me that Prof. Ben-David is in a meeting. I requested an interview with Prof. Ben-David and Hedva suggested that I email to her my credentials and my issues. I was only so happy to comply. (She also suggested that I check out the complete report which is available on their web site. I did that as well.)

To follow is an exact copy of the email (except for the cell phone number):

Letter to Taub Center_051610

Well I did indeed receive a reply from the Taub Center and here it is:

Dear Mr. Hirshman,
These are the answers Prof. Ben-David prepared for your questions:

Answers: The data source for the study on employment is the Labor Force Survey conducted by Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics. Need to ask them how they conduct their surveys. The whole issue of how haredim are defined in our study is explained in detail in the labor chapter of the book, including the pros and cons of our approach. In the Hebrew report, the graph on page 40 was translated directly into English in the press release. Hence, the Hebrew word "tashlumei" is translated into the English "Payments".

All the Best,

Hedva Elmackias
Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel

One of the more interesting things that I learned from this response is that the Taub Center did not conduct an independent survey but was merely analyzing data that was compiled by the CBS. That wouldn't be too bad... if not that CBS reported different figures!

As for the issue of defining "Haredim", the "detailed explanation" she referred to must have been inadvertently cut out of the final draft, as i couldn't find it. Incidentally, CBS's definition for Haredi is "those who call themselves haredi". This is actually a fair definition because most people who consider themselves part of the haredi community usually are. Nevertheless, this forces us to classify the category as subjective rather than based on specific measurable properties (scientific or empirical). Furthermore it very much complicates the idea of comparing data from three decades ago even if there is any.

Another interesting thing was that their reference to Welfare was not a reference to Chapter 7 of the report which discussed Welfare but did not use the word "payment", but rather it referred to a 3 page segment from Chapter 1 which did, in fact use the word "payment". Only problem is that it doesn't use the term "Welfare".

I noted these issues in my response to them for more clarification. Here it is:

Letter to Taub Center2_051710

That was a mere 24 hours ago and I haven't heard from them since. Based on past experience, there is a 97.8% chance that I am not going to hear from them again. And I think that I can already say that Professor Dan Ben-David is declining to be interviewed.

I don't know if anybody has learned anything from this essay. I can tell you that 68% of readers gave up after the fourth paragraph and, from the remainder, 53% will still swallow anything they're fed.

But I can tell you one thing - 100% of studies like this are what we call "chaval al haz'man".

*All statistics for this essay were painstakingly compiled by the Hirshman Institute for Common Sense, a very small grassroots organization in Jerusalem.

1 comment:

Pearlman CTA said...

nice job,
i often wonder when the media conduct a survey of what party voter plan to vote for via mediums Haredim do not use, how accurate/representative is that survey?
also when they survey what voters want to do what for 'peace', often not disclosed is if only Jewish citizens or if non Jewish are also included. again depending on how conducted the Haredi sector may not be represented.
pearlman cta
the recent complex creation