Statistics and What They’re Good For…

Every so often I get an email from MUFON about something or other, despite not having given them any money for many years. The screenshot below is from the most recent of these missives.

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If you’ve listened to my recent interview with Tim Binnall for Binnall of America, you will have heard my opinion that there might be some interesting and useful statistical analysis to be done of paranormal type subjects.

I’m not entirely entirely sure that the above is the best type of statistical information.  What this tells us is that 84% of sighting reports in February were from the United States.  Telescoping out, we find that 90.4% were from the countries of North America (USA, Canada, Mexico).  Around 94% were from largely Anglophone nations (USA, Canada, UK, Australia, Bahamas, American Samoa, and Guam). The majority of the nations from which sighting reports arrived were (broadly) part of the “western” world.  To a lesser degree, the Northern Hemisphere dominated, with the global south less well represented.

This is not to discount the substance of the sightings, nor of the efforts of organizations like MUFON in collecting them. It does, however, suggest that these statistics, this collection of sighting reports does not tell the whole story.  And, as well, more than a merely quantitative analysis is fundamental for fleshing out these numbers. Crucially, MUFON makes details of these reports available for more qualitative analysis.

But these geographical breakdowns do show that there is—at least—a disparity in where reports come from, not necessarily where odd things occur.  This sort of data is useful to a point. The meat, I suspect, is in the stories, with the geographical data providing a useful framework for developing a grander view of scope.

On the other hand, I tripped and fell while running and hit my head the other day, so these thoughts may be as unfocused as I suspect they are…!

2 thoughts on “Statistics and What They’re Good For…

  1. Unless statistics about sightings are collected in a standardized way, across all organizations worldwide, any meaningful data analysis is precluded by a mountain of incorrect or uncollected critical data.And then there’s the faulty data from cases misinterpreted by strongly biased “investigators”..

    Wishing you the best of luck with influencing a rag tag of mostly hobbyists and cottage industry “researchers” to think proactively about collecting case data in a fashion that’s usable for any scientific analysis. The “woo factor” and will to believe is far too high (as well as the marketing imperative)..

    It’s an avenue worth exploring, but I have a strong gut feeling the data collected over the years is mostly just “garbage in”.

    Sorry to sound so pessimistic, but reading many of the case reports is just headache inducing.

    • I agree totally, and I don’t expect anyone to start gathering and analyzing data in any formal, organized way.

      Most because, as you say, it’s a hobbyist field, not a scholarly one. To be fair, to do the kind of data collection and analysis necessary would require a lot of funding, not least for the salaries of our mythical the expert analysts.

      I tentatively agree with the “garbage in” assessment, at least if we’re staying in the realm of scientific data. At best (from my POV) the changing shape of narratives which emerge over the years may tell us interesting things about culture and society.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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