Monday, September 08, 2008

The statistic evolves

(Part 7 in a series)

Various commentators picked up the statistic from the Off the Map website, and in doing so they put their own interpretation on it. Sometimes this results in the statistic being misquoted so that it’s even more damning of Christianity. The website a Blind Beggar, devoted to the journey of Christianity, summarizes the statistic as follows. “Jim Henderson in the latest “Off the Map” newsletter noted that only prostitutes rank lower than evangelicals in terms of respect in the mind of the public.” Notice that the low regard of Christians is now held by the general public, not just non-Christians. Likewise, another weblog summarizes the statistic as “Only Prostitutes Rank
Lower than Evangelicals” and attributes it to an American survey. Here we not only think it’s the general American public, but we’re not even told which evangelicals rank so lowly on.

What's the point? The statistic is changed with retelling, to become a broader and broader indictment of Evangelical Christians.

Ultimately, we have a statistic that is a mixed (if not ambiguous) message for Christianity, and it becomes more and more negative in its retelling. It seems that the statistic is chosen, interpreted and transformed in order to maximize its usefulness rather than its empirically accuracy.


Corey said...

Brad, have you read Joel Best's work on Statistics? Joel would call this a mutantstatistic, one that starts as something (somewhat) legitimate, but that mutates into something resembling a swamp monster.

I half expect someone to start referring to that statistic from Barna that says "the only Christians the public likes are the prostitutes."

Brad Wright said...

I have read Best's book, and like it a lot. I had forgotten that he had termed this process. Eventually, your headline will probably be about what people remember.