Example and Hints

Psych3k Appendix A, Assignment 1


In an article in The Tulsa World, May 24, 1998, G-1, about "an American epidemic" of asthma, Editorial Writer Julie DelCour presents questionable claims.

According to DelCour and her sources, "There are up to 15 million asthmatics in the United States, including 183,000 Oklahomans. Their plight has become a primary focus of the American Lung Association, which knows only too well that in the last 20 years asthma cases have doubled, becoming an American epidemic."  And, "No one knows exactly why asthma cases have risen so dramatically. It could be that doctors are better able to diagnose the disease and are more aware of genetic susceptibilities. But environmental factors, such as smog and cigarette smoke, are the most plausible reasons." (Emphasis is mine.)

The reason that I suspect the claim that cigarette smoke is a cause of this "American epidemic" is that every other source of information that I can think of is claiming that there are fewer smokers today than there were twenty years ago (and 10, and 5, and 2 years ago).  How can fewer smokers cause a doubling of the incidence of asthma?  Sounds to me like another case of the anti-smoking crowd blaming cigarette smoking for everything that ails us.

DelCour, J. (1998, May24). Lifting the haze. Tulsa World, p. G-1 [Newspaper, stories on line]. Retrieved June3, 1998 from the World Wide Web: http://search.tulsaworld.com/scripts/vb_bridge2/VB_BRIDGE2.DLL?VBEXE=c:/inetsrv/scripts/newsearch/ArcStoryPrint.exe&ID=980523_Op_g1delco

(Note: You may need to "cut and paste" the URL because of the length.  Be sure that you leave no blank spaces, if you do.)


The purpose of this assignment is to point out the problem of the widespread reporting of statistics in the popular media without proper consideration of the rationale and appropriateness of that data.  For that reason, focus on reports in the popular media sources of information readily available to everyone rather than specialized sources of information.