January 11, 2018

# How to Deceive with Statistics: Distortions Due to Diminutive Denominators

We all learned in elementary school that "you can't divide by zero." But what happens when you divide by a number very close to zero, a small fraction? The quotient shoots way up to a very large value.
Pick any number. If you divide 27 by 1, you get 27. If you divide 27 by 0.1, you get 270. Divide 27 by 0.001, and you get 27,000. And so on. Any such division exercise blows up to a huge result as the denominator gets closer and closer to zero.
There are several indices being cited these days that get people's attention because of the big numbers displayed. But the reality is that those particular big numbers come entirely from having very small denominators when calculating a ratio. Three prominent examples of this mathematical artifact are the feedback effect in global warming models, the "Global Warming Potential," and the "Happy Planet Index." Each of these is afflicted by the...(Read Full Article)

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