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Joel Best is Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice at the University of Delaware. He is the author of Damned Lies and Statistics, Flavor of the Month, Stat-Spotting, and Everyone's a Winner and coauthor of The Student Loan Mess.
Damned Lies and Statistics: Untangling Numbers from the Media, Politicians, and Activists
Here, by popular demand, is the updated edition to Joel Best's classic guide to understanding how numbers can confuse us. In his new afterword, Best uses examples from recent policy debates to reflect on the challenges to improving statistical literacy. Since its publication ten years ago, Damned Lies and Statistics has emerged as the go-to handbook for spotting bad statistics and learning to think critically about these influential numbers.
More Damned Lies and Statistics: How Numbers Confuse Public Issues
In this sequel to the acclaimed Damned Lies and Statistics, which the Boston Globe said "deserves a place next to the dictionary on every school, media, and home-office desk," Joel Best continues his straightforward, lively, and humorous account of how statistics are produced, used, and misused by everyone from researchers to journalists. Underlining the importance of critical thinking in all matters numerical, Best illustrates his points with examples of good and bad statistics about such contemporary concerns as school shootings, fatal hospital errors, bullying, teen suicides, deaths at the World Trade Center, college ratings, the risks of divorce, racial profiling, and fatalities caused by falling coconuts. More Damned Lies and Statistics encourages all of us to think in a more sophisticated and skeptical manner about how statistics are used to promote causes, create fear, and advance particular points of view.
Best identifies different sorts of numbers that shape how we think about public issues: missing numbers are relevant but overlooked; confusing numbers bewilder when they should inform; scary numbers play to our fears about the present and the future; authoritative numbers demand respect they don’t deserve; magical numbers promise unrealistic, simple solutions to complex problems; and contentious numbers become the focus of data duels and stat wars. The author's use of pertinent, socially important examples documents the life-altering consequences of understanding or misunderstanding statistical information. He demystifies statistical measures by explaining in straightforward prose how decisions are made about what to count and what not to count, what assumptions get made, and which figures are brought to our attention.
Best identifies different sorts of numbers that shape how we think about public issues. Entertaining, enlightening, and very timely, this book offers a basis for critical thinking about the numbers we encounter and a reminder that when it comes to the news, people count—in more ways than one.
Stat-Spotting: A Field Guide to Identifying Dubious Data
Does a young person commit suicide every thirteen minutes in the United States? Are four million women really battered to death by their husbands or boyfriends each year? Is methamphetamine our number one drug problem today? Alarming statistics bombard our daily lives, appearing in the news, on the Web, seemingly everywhere. But all too often, even the most respected publications present numbers that are miscalculated, misinterpreted, hyped, or simply misleading.
This new edition contains revised benchmark statistics, updated resources, and a new section on the rhetorical uses of statistics, complete with new problems to be spotted and new examples illustrating those problems. Joel Best’s best seller exposes questionable uses of statistics and guides the reader toward becoming a more critical, savvy consumer of news, information, and data.
Entertaining, informative, and concise, Stat-Spotting takes a commonsense approach to understanding data and doesn't require advanced math or statistics.
The Student Loan Mess: How Good Intentions Created a Trillion-Dollar Problem
This illuminating investigation uncovers the full dimensions of the student loan disaster. A father and son team—one a best-selling sociologist, the other a former banker and current quantitative researcher—probes how we’ve reached the point at which student loan debt—now exceeding $1 trillion and predicted to reach $2 trillion by 2020—threatens to become the sequel to the mortgage meltdown. In spite of their good intentions, Americans have allowed concerns about deadbeat students, crushing debt, exploitative for-profit colleges, and changing attitudes about the purpose of college education to blind them to a growing crisis.
With college costs climbing faster than the cost of living, how can access to higher education remain a central part of the American dream? With more than half of college students carrying an average debt of $27,000 at graduation, what are the prospects for young adults in the current economy? Examining how we’ve arrived at and how we might extricate ourselves from this grave social problem, The Student Loan Mess is a must-read for everyone concerned about the future of American education.
Hard facts about the student loan crisis:
• Student loan debt is rising by more than $100 billion every year.
• Among recent college students who are supposed to be repaying their loans, more than a third are delinquent.
• Because student loans cannot be discharged through bankruptcy, the federal government misleadingly treats student loan debt as a government asset.
• Higher default rates, spiraling college costs, and proposals for more generous terms for student borrowers make it increasingly likely that student loan policies will eventually cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars.
Random Violence: How We Talk about New Crimes and New Victims
Random Violence is a deft and thought-provoking exploration of the ways we talk about—and why we worry about—new crimes and new forms of victimization. Focusing on so-called random crimes such as freeway shootings, gang violence, hate crimes, stalking, and wilding, Joel Best shows how new crime problems emerge and how some quickly fade from public attention while others spread and become enduring subjects of concern. Best's original and incisive argument illuminates the fact that while these crimes are in actuality neither new, nor epidemic, nor random, the language used to describe them nonetheless shapes both private fears and public policies.
Best scrutinizes the melodramatic quality of the American public's attitudes toward crime, exposing the cultural context for the popularity of "random violence" as a catch-all phrase to describe contemporary crime, and the fallacious belief that violence is steadily rising. He points out that the age, race, and sex of homicide victims reveal that violence is highly patterned.
Best also details the contemporary ideology of victimization, as well as the social arrangements that create and support a victim industry that can label large numbers of victims. He demonstrates why it has become commonplace to "declare war" on social problems, including drugs, crime, poverty, and cancer, and outlines the complementary influence of media, activists, officials, and experts in institutionalizing crime problems. Intrinsic to all these concerns is the way in which policy choices and outcomes are affected by the language used to describe social problems.
Images of Issues: Typifying Contemporary Social Problems
Constructionist theory describes and analyzes social problems as emerging through the efforts of claimsmakers who bring issues to public attention. By typifying a problem and characterizing it as a particular sort, claimsmakers can shape policymaking and public response to the problem. Th is new edition of Images of Issues addresses claimsmaking in the 1990s, featuring such issues as fathers' rights, stalking, sexual abuse by the clergy, hate crimes, multicultural education, factory farming, and concluding with an expanded discussion of the theoretical debate over constructionism.
Flavor of the Month: Why Smart People Fall for Fads
While fads such as hula hoops or streaking are usually dismissed as silly enthusiasms, trends in institutions such as education, business, medicine, science, and criminal justice are often taken seriously, even though their popularity and usefulness is sometimes short-lived. Institutional fads such as open classrooms, quality circles, and multiple personality disorder are constantly making the rounds, promising astonishing new developments—novel ways of teaching reading or arithmetic, better methods of managing businesses, or improved treatments for disease. Some of these trends prove to be lasting innovations, but others—after absorbing extraordinary amounts of time and money—are abandoned and forgotten, soon to be replaced by other new schemes. In this pithy, intriguing, and often humorous book, Joel Best—author of the acclaimed Damned Lies and Statistics—explores the range of institutional fads, analyzes the features of our culture that foster them, and identifies the major stages of the fad cycle—emerging, surging, and purging. Deconstructing the ways that this system plays into our notions of reinvention, progress, and perfectibility, Flavors of the Month examines the causes and consequences of fads and suggests ways of fad-proofing our institutions.
Everyone's a Winner: Life in Our Congratulatory Culture
Every kindergarten soccer player gets a trophy. Many high schools name dozens of seniors as valedictorians—of the same class. Cars sport bumper stickers that read "USA—Number 1." Prizes proliferate in every corner of American society, and excellence is trumpeted with ratings that range from "Academy Award winner!" to "Best Neighborhood Pizza!" In Everyone’s a Winner, Joel Best— acclaimed author of Damned Lies and Statistics and many other books—shines a bright light on the increasing abundance of status in our society and considers what it all means. With humor and insight, Best argues that status affluence fosters social worlds and, in the process, helps give meaning to life in a large society.
Kids Gone Wild: From Rainbow Parties to Sexting, Understanding the Hype Over Teen Sex
The myths and truths of teen's sexual behavior.Winner of the 2015 Brian McConnell Book Award presented by the International Society for Contemporary Legend Research To hear mainstream media sources tell it, the sex lives of modern teenagers outpace even the smuttiest of cable television shows. Teen girls “sext” explicit photos to boys they like; they wear “sex bracelets” that signify what sexual activities they have done, or will do; they team up with other girls at “rainbow parties” to perform sex acts on groups of willing teen boys; they form “pregnancy pacts” with their best girlfriends to all become teen mothers at the same time. From The Today Show, to CNN, to the New York Times, stories of these events have been featured widely in the media. But are most teenage—or younger—children really going to sex parties and having multiple sexual encounters in an orgy-like fashion? Researchers say no—teen sex is actually not rampant and teen pregnancy is at low levels. But why do stories like these find such media traffic, exploiting parents’ worst fears? How do these rumors get started, and how do they travel around the country and even across the globe? In Kids Gone Wild, best-selling authors Joel Best and Kathleen A. Bogle use these stories about the fears of the growing sexualization of childhood to explore what we know about contemporary legends and how both traditional media and the internet perpetuate these rumors while, at times, debating their authenticity. Best and Bogle describe the process by which such stories spread, trace how and to where they have moved, and track how they can morph as they travel from one medium to another. Ultimately, they find that our society’s view of kids raging out of control has drastic and unforeseen consequences, fueling the debate on sex education and affecting policy decisions on everything from the availability of the morning after pill to who is included on sex offender registries. A surprising look at the truth behind the sensationalism in our culture, Kids Gone Wild is a much-needed wake-up call for a society determined to believe the worst about its young people.
How Claims Spread: Cross-National Diffusion of Social Problems
Best's anthology examines for the first time how diverse social issues--road rage, the metric system, gun control, and abortion are among those included--migrate across national boundaries, modifying themselves from place to place as a result of different claims, claimsmakers, and policy responses. This unique collection, assembled from new research by an international group of social problems scholars, will fill a gap in undergraduate and graduate level studies in the constructionist analyses of social problems, as well as in political science, public policy, and criminology.
Claims concerning one social problem often influence those about another: claimsmakers borrow rhetoric and tactics from one another. In some cases, experienced claimsmakers join efforts to call attention to other social problems: compelling images (e.g., the threatened child or random violence) link claims about different problems and reactions to one set of claims.
These case studies describe very different processes, ranging from deliberate attempts to disseminate social problem claims to developments that were more inadvertent, from successes in which social problem constructions spread to new countries to failures in which claims were sown, but failed to take root. They are intended to suggest that the diffusion of social problems is neither simple nor automatic.
Joel Best is professor and chair, Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, University of Delaware. He has served as an editorial advisor for Aldine that has produced fifty titles.
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