Can't Anyone Reality Check Numbers?

I am constantly frustrated with the media's inability to reality check the numbers they publish.  In many cases, just a few seconds thought would tell them that the numbers make no sense.

Today's example actually comes from a "meth-is-death" web site which is run by the Tennessee state attorneys-general association and is linked prominently from the Federal Government's anti-drug web site  (Hat tip to Reason).  Here are their numbers, copied right from the site:

  • 1 in 7 high school students will try meth.
  • 99 percent of first-time meth users are hooked after just the first try.
  • Only 5 percent of meth addicts are able to kick it and stay away.
  • From the first hit to the last breath, the life expectancy of a habitual
    meth user is only 5 years.

So 14.3% (1 in 7) try meth, 99% of those who try are hooked, and 95% of those hooked stay hooked, and all of those hooked die in five years.  So .143 x .99 x .95  or 13.45% of all kids are dying on average by the age of 23.  Wow.  There must be a really huge conspiracy out there to cover up all these deaths. Given that there are about 17,000,000 high school age kids, that means that in the next 5 years or so nearly 2.3 million of them are going to die.   And adults who run anti-drug programs wonder why kids don't take their warnings seriously. 


  1. Matthew Brown:

    The only way the numbers could make any sense is if the number who stay 'hooked' are not all in the class 'habitual users'. But that doesn't make any sense.

  2. Matt:

    It's like the oft-repeated "the number of children killed by handguns has doubled every year since 1960"...which, if true, would mean that (even if only _one_ child was killed by a handgun in 1960) the number of children killed by handguns this year alone would exceed, by at least four orders of magnitude, the number of human beings who have existed since the dawn of time.

    Given that people actually seem to be buying into myths like these, one is tempted to suspect that the scare stories about how terrible Americans are at math might not be quite as overblown as they seem.

  3. The Unrepentant Individual:

    A bunch of quick hits

    I’ve been busy all week actually posting original content, but there’s a lot that I’ve noticed around the ’sphere that needs to be mentioned. So here we go: