For instructors

The Data Game is not a textbook but it is an excellent text companion for courses in statistics or research methods. The overarching message of the book is that many social science controversies arise, not because researchers are 'lying' about the data, but because of recurring issues commonly found in empirical work in any field. If students are familiar with these underlying data issues, they will be much better equipped to understand existing controversies, as well as to think more carefully about their own empirical projects.

Each chapter of the book is devoted to a single subject but of course, the underlying data issues are not constrained to just one field. To help instructors who may be looking for examples of specific data issues, this page provides an index of the controversies in the book, roughly divided into five general categories, some with several sub-categories (note that some controversies fall under more than one data issue).
  • First, many statistical controversies arise, not because researchers are 'lying' about the data, but because any empirical analysis requires making choices, and sometimes different analysts make different choices, such as how to define variables or which groups to compare. The controversies in the book highlight the many different types of choices that social scientists must make when working with data, and can be used to encourage students to think through the implications that those choices will have on the conclusions reached. 
  • Controversies also arise because of problems with the underlying data, such as issues with data collection or data that changes over time. Researchers may have little control over these problems but it is important for analysts to be mindful and transparent about the limitations of the data. 
  • Another group of controversies revolve around questions of causality, i.e., why we observe the data that we do. There are often multiple explanations that can be difficult to disentangle and social scientists may be unable to provide clear-cut evidence for any one hypothesis. 
  • Finally, some controversies can be explained with a better understanding of the mathematics of statistics, such as how adjustments are made or the difference between mean, median and mode. Some of these issues are relatively easy for the layperson to understand; others require social scientists to work harder to explain statistical concepts to the media and the public. 
  • In addition, students should also be made aware of the role the media can play in creating and exacerbating social science controversies.

Different choices

How are concepts defined (which variable is used)?
  • How Big Was the Bubble and is It Over Yet? p.39 
  • Could the Bubble Have Been Foreseen? p.41 
  • How much segregation is there? p.49 
  • Is Your City the Best Place to Live? p.51 
  • Poor Data (Education), p.90 
  • Are Students Learning Less? p.96 
  • What is the savings rate? p.154 
  • What is Wealth? p.169 
  • Are the Rich Getting Richer? p.172 
  • Is Rags-to-Riches Just an American Myth? p.174 
  • Are We Better Off? p.177 
  • Is the middle class disappearing? p.179 
  • Who Is the Biggest of Them All? p.214 
  • Which is Larger: GM or Switzerland? Box 10.1, p.218 
  • Top of the World (2011) - Box 10.2, p.219 
  • Is Small Beautiful? p.220 
  • Were the Bailout a Success? p.223 
  • Are Profits Too High? p.224 
  • How Profitable Is a Professional Sports Team? p.224 
  • Taxes: What's a Fair Share for the Rich? p.242 
  • What Is Money? p.245 
  • Inflation: Which CPI? p.247 
Which parts make up the whole (how are variables defined)?
  • Costly Immigrants? p.16 
  • How Many Homeless Are There? p.46 
  • Does the U.S. lead or lag in infant mortality? p.62 
  • Are we winning or losing the war on cancer? p.69 
  • How many people have cancer? p.71 
  • How Many Students Complete College? p.92 
  • Are Teachers Underpaid? p.102 
  • How much crime is there? p.115 
  • What About White-Collar Crime? p.131 
  • Problems with GDP, p.145 
  • Which country has the biggest economy? p.147 
  • Are We Better Off? Individual Earnings, p.177 
  • The Poverty Line is Too High, p.182 
  • How Much Did Poverty Increased During the Recession? p.184 
  • How many people are unemployed? p.194 
  • International Labor Statistics: Unemployment, p.205 
  • How Big Is the U.S. Military Budget? p.235 
  • How Much Did the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq Cost? p.235 
  • How Much for Welfare? p.236 
  • How Big Is the Deficit? p.237 
  • A Debt Monster? p.240 
  • Who Bears the Tax Burden? p.241 
  • Do the Rich Pay 90 Percent in Taxes? Box 11.2, p.244 
  • The Problem of Many Currencies, p.250 
  • Fewer Voters? p.251 
Who/what is being compared (different samples)?
  • Did Depenalization Increase Drug Use? Box 4.5, p.78 
  • Does the United States Rank Last? p.93 
  • Are We Closing Achievement Gaps? p.99 
  • Are Charter Schools More Effective Than Regular Public Schools? p.101 
  • Are Teachers Underpaid? p.102 
  • Comparing Apples and Oranges - Box 7.2, p.151 
  • Too Few U.S. Engineers? Box 9.3 p.198 
  • Which country creates the most jobs? p.205 
Is the focus on means or subgroups?
  • How big is the black-white life expectancy gap? p.66
  • Likelihood of Breast Cancer, p.71
  • Are Americans Getting Fatter? p.73
  • Are Boys Better at Math and Science? Box 5.4, p.98
  • Are Charter Schools More Effective Than Regular Public Schools? p.101
  • Are We Better Off? Individual Earnings, p.177
  • Poverty is Overestimated for Some, Underestimated for Others, p.183
  • Fewer Voters? p.251
Is the focus on relative or absolute numbers?
  • Are Women Crowding Men Out of College? Box 5.2, p.94 
  • Are There More Female Criminals? p.117 
  • Is Rags-to-Riches Just an American Myth? p.174 
  • The Poverty Line is Too Low, p.182 
  • Are Men Overworked? Box 9.5, p.204 
How are categories defined?
  • Multiracial Backgrounds, p.18 
  • Who is Black? Who is Asian? Who is Hispanic? p.19 
  • What is a Household? What is a Family? p.25 
  • Is the Mortgage Deduction a Middle-Class Tax Break? p.43 
  • Geographic Units, p.48 
  • Are Americans "Food Insecure"? Box 4.1, p.67 
  • How many hate crimes are there? p.125 
  • Do Sex Offenders Repeat Their Crime? Box 6.3, p.127 
  • Measuring Productivity: Services, p.153 
  • How Wealthy is Wealthy? p.171 
  • Does Income of $250,000 Mean You Are Rich? p.172 
  • Are the Big Too Big? p.217 
Over what time period?
  • Are we winning or losing the war on cancer? p.70 
  • What is the status of the war on drugs? p.77 
  • Measuring Productivity: Which Years? p.150 
  • Do 90% of New Businesses Fail? Box 10.4, p.223 
  • What is annual inflation? p.249 
Percentage of what?
  • How Many Divorces Are There? p.27 
  • Is There a Homeownership Gap? p.43 
  • Is the Mortgage Deduction a Middle-Class Tax Break? p.43 
  • How Many Students Complete High School? p.90 
  • Fewer Voters? p.251 

Data problems:

Data collection issues
  • How many people are there? (undercount in Census) p.9 
  • How Many Unauthorized Immigrants Are There? p.16 
  • How Big is the Gay Population? p.24 
  • How Many Divorces Are There? p.27 
  • How Many Homeless Are There? p.46 
  • How many abortions are there? p.63 
  • What are death rates for the very elderly? p.66 
  • How many people have HIV/AIDS? p.72 
  • How Much Did You Eat? - Box 4.4, p.74 
  • Poor Data (Education), p.89 
  • UCR, NCVS, or NIBRS? p.115 
  • How many rapes are there? p.121 
  • More Guns/More Crime or Less Crime? p.128 
  • How many convictions are wrong? p.128 
  • How big is the underground economy? p.146 
  • Measuring Productivity: Hours Worked, p.151 
  • International Statistics: Month-to-Month Volatility, p.157 
  • International Statistics: Poor Quality Data, p.157 
  • Errors in Trade Data - Box 7.3, p.159 
  • Measuring Wealth - Box 8.2, p.173 
  • I've Got a Secret - Box 8.3, p.174 
  • Who is the Wealthiest of Them All? Box 8.4, p.175 
  • Unemployment: How It Came to Be, p.193 
  • How to Survey the Unemployed - Box 9.1, p.195 
  • How many people are union members? p.201 
  • Is the Workplace Safe? p.202 
  • How many people are involved in labor strikes? p.202 
  • Squirrel Cage or Easier Times? p.203 
  • Do Americans work more than Europeans? p.205 
  • Which country has the highest rates of unionization? p.206 
  • How Many Iraqi Civilian Deaths? Box 11.1, p.237 
  • Missing Currency? p.246 
Changes in data over time
  • What has happened to interstate migration? p.14 
  • What Is the Role of Cohabitation? p.27 
  • How much have age-adjusted death rates changed? p.69 
  • Are we winning or losing the war on cancer? p.70 
  • How many people have cancer? p.71 
  • How many rapes are there? p.121 
  • Adjusting GDP for inflation, p.145 
  • North American Industry Classification System - Box 10.3, p.221 
Future predictions require assumptions
  • Will there be a Population Boom? p.14 
  • Risk Assessment, p.79 
  • Valuing Pensions, p.238 
Problems with underlying calculations
  • How did 1.3 million people disappear in one year? p.12
  • Privacy in the Census, p.13
  • Who Is an Effective Teacher? p.103
  • What's the Cost of a Holiday? Box 7.1, p.148
Survey data: Multiple issues, categorized and discussed throughout Chapter 12, Public Opinion Polling

  • Racial Discrimination by Banks, p.44 
  • Hispanic/Mexican American Life Expectancy: A Paradox? p.65 
  • What's Unsafe on the Road? Speed, Texting, Teens, Motorcycles, or Alcohol? p.75 
  • Crime Is Down - And We Don't Know Why, p.116 
  • Are There More Female Criminals? p.117 
  • Does Poverty Cause Crime? p.122 
  • Why Is the Black Crime Rate So High? p.123 
  • Does Capital Punishment Deter Murder? p.126 
  • More Guns/More Crime or Less Crime? p.128 
  • Are You More Likely to Be Murdered by an Acquaintance Than a Stranger? Box 6.5, p.130 
  • Is Unemployment Structural or Cyclical? Box 9.2, p.196 
  • Does the minimum wage lead to unemployment? p.199 
  • Picking Stock Winners, p.226 

Statistical issues:

  • Housing Price Indices and Housing Quality - Box 3.2, p.42 
  • Are We Living Longer? p.63 
  • Where Is Crime the Worst? p.119 
  • Has China Caught Up with the United States? p.149 
  • Measuring Productivity: Changing Products, p.152
Ecological fallacy
  • Chicago Heat Wave: What Caused the Tragedy? p.74 
  • Does Poverty Cause Crime? p.122 
Index numbers
  • How Now Dow? p.225 
  • Is Your City the Best Place to Live? p.51 
  • Where Is Crime the Worst? p.119 
  • Does consumer confidence matter? p.156 
  • Are We Better Off? Family Income, p.178 
  • Inflation, p.247 
  • The Problem of Many Currencies, p.250 
Is the numerator or denominator changing?
  • Is There a Homeownership Gap? p.43 
  • Are We Better Off? Per Capita Income, p.177 
  • How many people are employed? p.197 
Mean, median or mode?
  • How to Measure Longevity: Mean and Median Life Expectancy, p.66 
  • Does Prison Pay? p.124 
  • Mean, Median, and Mode - Box 8.1, p.171 
  • Is Small Beautiful? p.220 
Simpson's Paradox
  • Why Do SAT Scores Keep Falling? p.99
Statistical significance/undue accuracy
  • Does the United States Rank Last? p.93 
  • Misleading Boundaries - Box 6.2, p.119 
  • Effect of Rounding - Box 11.5, p.249 

[NOTE: Many of the controversies listed above have been perpetuated, distorted or exaggerated by poor media coverage, but the controversies themselves are based in legitimate research issues. The examples listed in this section are those where the core controversy itself has been largely created by problematic media coverage.]
  • What are the top problems in schools? p.92 
  • Human Trafficking: How Often Does It Occur? p.118 
  • Taxation at the Margin: Working More Does Earn You More, p.244 
  • Is New York City Telling the Truth? Box 6.1, p.118 

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