September 23, 2008

Statistics and Myths about Immigrants

author_sally By Sally Raskoff

A friend sent me an e-mail that I found very alarming. Although I consider this person a friend, we have never really talked about politics. But I was still surprised when the missive below came from her. BadStats

Her email was obviously a chain letter expressing frustration about California’s problems, allegedly due to illegal immigrants. The  content of the “evidence” is supposed to be from the Los Angeles Times and lists many statistics that lay blame for scary and negative situations squarely upon illegal immigrants.

As a sociologist who teaches statistics, I could not let this go without a response. While I included in my email response a tactful discussion of the reasons why these statistics are problematic, I’d like to invite you to help identify what the problems are with this message.

I’ll start with the source – stating that these came from the Times isn’t sufficient to give them credibility. No date, page, research source or author is mentioned. These could have come from an advertisement in that newspaper or, more likely, never appeared there to begin with. Searching the LA Times online, even with quotes from the text, no connections appear.

Many of the statistics are illogical: “95% of murder warrants … are for illegal ‘aliens’”? The 95% is a big red flag. Few human patterns, especially crime patterns, are so simple that there can be an easy explanation.

Other statistics mentioned are more about prejudice than serious social problems, like this one: “21 radio stations in LA are Spanish speaking”. 

clip_image004Since these statistics are all about Los Angeles and California, the research reported by the Public Policy Institute of California provides a good contrast to these figures. In their June 2008 “Just the Facts” report on “Immigrants in California,” they state that “Immigration has directly accounted for 40% of the state’s population growth since 2000,” which is a figure much less than the e-mail’s purported 90%. 

Finally, checking the text of the email on (a site devoted to investigating hoaxes) this message has quite a history as it has been circulating since 2006. 

Questioning those email forwards and considering the accuracy and source of information that comes our way are crucial steps in critical thinking and forging a pathway based on accuracy rather than ignorance. Do you see any other problems in this email snippet? How would you go about finding unbiased and accurate sources to check this information?


(Photo courtesy of the National Archives


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People are amazed by statistics. Somehow they have magical powers. If you can count it, it has to be real. Also, they love having evidence for their prejudices (isn’t that what some “social scientists” do?). I think that debunking myths is a need, especially when they are referring to vulnerable groups, like people in poverty or political minorities. I have found the same when people speak about poverty, blaming people for their state, assuming they are lazy.

When people come with this kind of evidence, I have to ask their source and verify it, I do express my sincere opinion but you are not talking to people with real rational motives, but with people who want to support their prejudices with some “hard” evidence. So it’s really useless to try to talk sense to some of these claims, because people are not using their reason, but their guts.

How about this red flag statistic. 100% of all US citizens who were victims of crimes at the hands of illegal aliens would not have been victims of those crimes had those illegal aliens been prevented from entering the country. It is so very easy to excuse the crimes of illegal aliens as long as you or a member of your family was not a victim.

Some of those numbers just "feel" grossly wrong. Let's see, figure maybe half of LA County's 10.5 million people live in houses, and average around 3 per house, so there should be at most a couple of million houses in LA County...yet 300,000 aliens living in garages? That's about one alien for every 6 houses! You know, I have more than 6 neighbors, and somehow, not a one of them has an illegal alien living in the garage! I must have an unusual neighborhood.

I'm just gonna go ahead with not answering to these people, as I said earlier:

"you are not talking to people with real rational motives, but with people who want to support their prejudices with some “hard” evidence."

Sorry guys, try trolling youtube.

I dont see the problem about the illegal aliens because we were all illegal at one time. There is no pure blood American anymore. I have a problem with the stat that says only 2% of the illegal aliens are picking our crops but 29% are on welfare. Why do we always think they are not capable of doing more in their life expect for picking our crops or working at a fast food place such as McDonalds?

I once lived near LA, and I can definitely agree that there are a lot of Hispanic residents in the area. However, that doesn't automatically make them all illegal aliens. Yes, California is a prime target for said illegals, and yes, they do cause problems, but this e-mail is definitely extreme. 21 Spanish speaking stations? 3.9 million Spanish speakers? Whether these particular two are true or not, it is simply a sign of diffusion, not of impending doom. Isn't that what America is about?

You can't trust email with ridiculous statistics because the obvious focus of the email is to make illegal immigrants seem like such bad people. But im sure there is just as much statistics that can show other races in a bad light.sure there are alot of illegal immigrants but dont solely base your judgements on exaggerated statistics.

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