As if we need more evidence.
The statistics community loves to think of our subject as highly practical and relevant to the general population. And this is true.
The average person has a poor grasp of basic statistical thinking, even if he or she has taken one or more statistics courses. This is true, yet many in our community are in denial.
Chapter 1 of Numbers Rule Your World deals with the most basic of basics... the use of statistical averages and the variance around the average. If you're designing a first course in statistics, or a course in statistical literacy for non-majors, you'd hope that students would at least pick up this one concept.
Apparently, neither the reporter nor the editors at LA Times has taken a basic statistics course, or more likely, has not learned about statistical averages and probability distributions in such a course well enough to apply to real-world data.
The depressing article discusses a tabulation of the "richest" cities in the world, using the metric number of millionaires per resident. New York City is the "richest" in the U.S. boasting 4.63% (389K) millionaires.
Here is how the reporter "enlivens" the boring statistic:
Walk down the street in New York and you're virtually guaranteed to see several millionaires. That's because more than 1 in every 25 New Yorkers is a millionaire, according to a study released Tuesday.
For this to be true, we have to assume that the population of New York is evenly distributed geographically. Further, we have to assume that millionaires are also evenly distributed. Both these assumptions are laughably bad. The statistical average is useless here when you start talking about "walking down every street".
Besides, what's the chance that a millionaire is walking down the street in Manhattan, let alone in Staten Island? Are they more likely found in a cab or limo or private car or helicopter?
The reporter should also have done homework on how the researcher classifies the residence of millionaires. Many of them have multiple homes, most likely in global locations. They may have an address in Manhattan, for example, but what if they spend most of their time in the Hamptons or Bermuda? You can count them as New York residents but surely you won't see them on the streets of New York!
When only a minority of students exhibit little to no ability to apply statistical thinking, one could blame the students; but when a majority of those who have taken statistics courses commit the most fundamental errors, one must blame the teaching.