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“F.B.I. Treating Attack in San Bernardino as Terrorism” reads the New York Times headline, implying that perhaps the Times demurs. The sense of the paper being dragged, reluctantly, from a preferred narrative is accentuated midway through the article by a curious graphical island, appearing in splendid isolation from the actual text:
Clicking through to the source reveals the contention that there have been more deaths in the United States from “right wing attacks” than “jihadist attacks” since 2002. The take home point: Even if the San Bernardino shooting is the work of ISIS-inspired terrorists, as the FBI now acknowledges, what’s the big deal? The Second Amendment is the real problem.
In his 1954 classic How to Lie with Statistics, Darrell Huff devotes a chapter to manipulating impressions by resort to the Gee-Whiz Graph. The Times entry stands as a modern-day exemplar of the type. For starters, care to guess why 2002 was selected as the base year for comparison rather than 2000? What are the criteria used for categorizing murders as “jihadist” versus “right wing”? What murders are excluded from both categories and why? And what about the evident quiescence in violent death from both camps depicted from 2002-2008? What might possibly have changed in the United States beginning in 2009 to bring about a dramatic increase in successful domestic terror attacks? The authors offer no comment.
And that speaks volumes.