Imagine a car company that is doing an internal audit on their cars. This company makes two different car models. Let’s call these Model A and Model B. The company makes 100 of Model A every year and 1000 of Model B every year. The internal audit has found that there are an average of 30 manufacturing faults reported per year. Of the 30 manufacturing faults reported, 10 are related to Model A and 20 are related to Model B.
Which Model is experiencing the more serious issues? When looking at raw numbers, it would be Model B. This is because there are twice as many faults reported for Model B than for Model A. However, when we take into consideration that the company produces ten times as many of Model B than for Model A, then this tells us a different story. What this tells us is that the company has 10% of Model A having a fault reported, whilst only 2% of Model B having a fault reported.
This is why looking only at raw numbers can be misleading when reading statistics. The recent protests against police brutality in the US have brought up arguments concerning the number of African Americans killed by law enforcement. Such arguments against the claim that there is an issue of police violence against African Americans is that more white people are killed by police than African Americans. And this is true. According to The Guardian, the total number of white deaths from police in 2015 was 577 whilst the total number of black deaths was 300. However, when adjusted for population white deaths from police are at a rate of 2.91% whilst blacks deaths from police are at rate of 7.13%. Therefore, African Americans are twice as likely to be killed by police when adjusted for proportion of the population.
It is beyond the scope of this post to argue why African Americans are killed at a higher rate than whites. The main point of this post is to demonstrate that looking at the raw numbers tells us nothing about where there is a significant issue when proportion to the population has not been accounted for.
If you are interested in political philosophy, I have a book on Identity Politics which is available for purchase called “Contrasting Identities: Navigating Identity Politics Conversations”