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The story of the numbers behind the story

Monday, November 22, 2010
posted by Rita Handrich

One of the writers on this blog chose her undergraduate degree to avoid taking Statistics. The other taught statistics at the graduate university level. But this is not a post about stereotypical gender differences (although it could sink that low…). It is instead about our sense of differences between stories and statistics and the importance of using both to educate and help jurors understand statistics in the context of their own lives (if possible). We think the best way to help statistics-phobic jurors accept both the story and the statistic is to teach them statistics in an accurate but amusing fashion. This is the goal of your expert witness.

There’s a wonderful quote at the Opinionator blog in a post written on the difference between stories and statistics.

There is a tension between stories and statistics, and one under-appreciated contrast between them is simply the mindset with which we approach them. In listening to stories we tend to suspend disbelief in order to be entertained, whereas in evaluating statistics we generally have an opposite inclination to suspend belief in order not to be beguiled.

There are those among us who prefer stories. And there are those among us who require data. There are also those who prefer to have both— “tell me a story and then show me why it’s true”. The comments section at the Opinionator post has examples of all three of those sorts of people writing in. That means this is a post appealing to all sorts of folks.

Your goal at trial is to find a path to tell both of those stories at the same time: the intriguing tale and the facts that support it. You generate the emotional response to a story as well as the emotional comfort that comes from having facts and data that support the story narrative. That’s how you resonate with those who prefer stories, those who prefer statistics and those who prefer a bit of both.

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