Thomas Sowell

Although I dropped out of high school more than half a century ago, and still do not have a high school diploma, I do have a couple of postgraduate degrees. Is my income counted when they add up the incomes of dropouts? Not bloody likely.

This is not just a fine point. All sorts of efforts are being made to prevent kids from dropping out of high school, as if dropping out means the end of their education. Since it usually means only an interruption, leading eventually to a resumption of their education after some experience in the real world, the urgency of preventing them from encountering the real world is by no means obvious. They may be more serious students afterwards.

One of the most brazen uses of statistics which do not fit the definition was in a much-praised book that attempted to show that black students admitted to colleges under affirmative action do just fine. The book was titled "The Shape of the River," written by William Bowen and Derek Bok, former presidents of Princeton and Harvard, respectively.

Although this book is crammed full of statistics, not one of those statistics is about black students admitted under affirmative action. Black students admitted under the same standards as white students are lumped together with black students admitted under lower standards. Yet, from this the authors conclude that affirmative action is a good thing -- to the applause of those who apparently wanted to see that conclusion more than they wanted to see meaningful statistics.

Advocates of campaign finance reform often speak of the corrupting influence of money. But they seldom include the corrupting influence of the government's money on what statistical "facts" are fed to the public.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate