What Do You Want the Stats to Say?

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There was a story on the news today about a man who was the victim of a despicable crime. He has come forward and reported it (as he should). And then, the news reporter said that “it is estimated that five of six of these crimes go unreported.”


Now, I’m not going to deny that more of this sort of crime goes on than is reported. Nor am I going to mention the nature of the crime because this is, sort of, a humor column and it’s not my point to make fun of the victims of crimes. My point is to—in this case—make fun of stupid reporting.

Seriously, how is it possible to come up with a number of unreported crimes? By definition, we have no record of them.

If, for instance, the reporter had said something like, “Experts believe that this crime happens more often than reported,” I would have no quibble with that. That’s true of every crime. The perpetrators don’t report them because they don’t want to be caught. The victims sometimes don’t report them because they are embarrassed, because (depending on the crime) they don’t realize it’s happening, or out of fear of reprisal. That makes the crime doubly sad when we hear about it later.

The “hearing about it later” is a key factor here. Just for interest sake, let’s say we’re talking about people being shot in the knee with shotguns. If three people show up at the hospital and/or police station with shattered knees and buckshot, we’re going to assume that the number of people shot in the knee with shotguns in our town is … (drum roll) three. If, however, the police discover over the course of time that there were two other people in town with remarkably similar injuries who went neither to a hospital or the police station, it would make sense for the local newspaper to report that, “Experts say 2 of 5 cases being shot in the knee with a shotgun go unreported.”

Barring such evidence, however, it’s ridiculous to become any more specific in our estimations than to say that, “More of this crime is probably happening than is being reported.”

On the other hand, the great thing about such sloppy reporting is that, again by definition, it can’t be disproved. There may indeed be five more instances of the crime in question that go unreported but we’ll never know. So, with that in mind, I’m going to tell you that for every one of these columns I write there are at least five more—just as good—in my head. Go ahead. Prove me wrong.