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Lies, Damned Lies and Cat Statistics

samzenpus posted more than 4 years ago | from the nine-lies dept.

Math 175

spopepro writes "While un-captioned cats might be of limited interest to the /. community, I found this column on how a fabricated statistic takes on a life of its own interesting. Starting with the Humane Society of the United States' (HSUS) claim that the unsterilized offspring of a cat will '...result in 420,000 cats in 5 years,' the author looks at other erroneous numbers, where they came from and why they won't go away."

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lol gb2/b/ (-1, Offtopic)

Alex Belits (437) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295150)

While un-captioned cats might be of limited interest to the /. community

lol gb2/b/

Actually... (4, Insightful)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295336)

Actually, if you actually read the article to the end, they do say it applies to just about any kind of statistics. E.g., an example they use is a statistics which supposedly said that men prefer dating secretaries than female managers -- and you can see how that helped fuel that prejudice that women who pursue a that kind of career won't get laid, and probably are cold hearted bitches who don't have time for love anyway -- but then when someone actually got to the bottom of it, the poll didn't actually ask that.

Or you can take the myth that a woman who's not married by 35 is even less likely to marry than to be killed by a terrorist. Not only it turns out it was BS unsubstantiated hyperbole, but the perpetrators actually eventually apologized for it. Hey, better a few decades later than never, right? To get an idea how bogus that was, not only didn't the calculated numbers add up to "less likely than being killed by a terrorist" (they even admitted they made that up for sensationalism sake), but it was based on the critically flawed assumption that a woman would _only_ marry older men. But it's been echoed all over the place and taken for a fact.

And what they say is that basically not only some numbers pulled out of some PR bullshitter's ass get taken for gospel, but basically they become nearly impossible to debunk. You'd have to spend the equivalent of several episodes to debunk one sound bite that takes just 5 seconds to mindlessly repeat all around. And even then, you won't get as much exposure as the mass of idiots repeating the falsehood because they heard it somewhere, and even to a lot of those who hear you debunking it, you'll just sound like some conspiracy-theorist for attacking what they know for a fact.

And I think that shouldn't be dismissed as just some idle lolcat joke. Especially in IT and CS, we see the same phenomenon every day. There are a ton of "X is better than Y" or "A is 10% more scalable than B" pseudo-facts thrown around, that everyone just repeats and nobody questions them.

Especially almost nobody in management who heard it in some IT-for-managers ragazine _and_ from the nice salesman using it to sell his snake oil. So it must be true, right?

Re:Actually... (4, Insightful)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295402)

The fundamental problem is that most people are credulous morons.

Re:Actually... (-1, Flamebait)

rMuD (248319) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295578)

Yep, a great parallel of the blind followers of Man Made Global Warming

Re:Actually... (1, Offtopic)

Klinky (636952) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295764)

Can you at least agree that the environment needs some protection? I don't think people want lead in their water, asbestos in their homes or acid rain in their cities. The environment needs more protection than it currently has. Effectively shitting all over your home is not a wise decision, closing your eyes doesn't make it stink any less.

Re:Actually... (-1, Flamebait)

Wonko the Sane (25252) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295854)

How about we focus on real problems like lead (and mercury) in the water and asbestos, soot and sulfur dioxide in the air instead of made-up problems like stray cats and carbon dioxide?

Re:Actually... (4, Insightful)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295672)

In a nutshell, yes.

Though IMHO it is a bit more than that. It's not just that people will believe some BS or another. It's that one piece of BS can get so circulated around, that it becomes basically common knowledge. It becomes something that "everyone knows". Even people who wouldn't just believe it the first time, start falling for it when they hear it from 10 different sources as common knowledge.

Plus, as they say in TFA, eventually it even gets picked by some newspaper, or repeated by some politician trying to support some bill, and it kinda becomes official.

Even basically "[citation needed]" doesn't help there, because some piece of BS (with statistics or not) that's been bouncing around for 30 years, can be a bitch to track to the actual source. Publication A cites official report B (see the politicians using them above,) which in turn has a footnote pointing at newspaper article C, which points to out-of-print book D, which even if you find a copy and read it, in turn points out to some study that's behind a paywall, and if you got even there, you find out it's really a meta-study quoting the numbers published in yet another article E.

Most people will give up somewhere along that chain, and assume it's actually a valid and proven claim. Some right at the first step, because, hey, it does point to a source.

And sometimes even if you make it all the way to the root source, you'll have trouble convincing anyone that that common knowledge is false. I mean, hey, what are you, some conspiracy theorist? Everyone knows X is true. Plus, supposedly some scientist said that (though usually he actually didn't, and some PR department or journalist mis-represented him), and who are you to question scientists??? You can even see that kind of idiot on Slashdot. There are several people around who seem to thrive on posting basically "who are you to question TEH SCIENTISTS???"

And even if you got past that, you often find that

A) they have the same gross misunderstanding of statistics as the journalists who mis-represented it in the first place, so good luck getting them to see why it doesn't actually say that, or

B) you need to first teach them what an equivocation or amphibology fallacy is, before they're even equipped to understand why the study doesn't actually say what they think it says

C) you'd need to first teach them a lot about the psychology and pitfalls of polling, i.e., that basically you can produce vastly different results from the same people and to essentially the same question, by just exploiting the tendency of people to say "yes" more than "no", or pick the answer which sounds more agreeable, or just pick the first one more in multi-choice polls. Serious polling companies know and compensate for that, but a PR agency can deliberately exploit that to skew the results.

Etc.

And again, try to do that without sounding like a CT-er inventing reasons not to trust those guys, and without falling into "tl;dr" range either. Good luck with that.

Basically at some point some falsehoods have taken off so well, that you don't even have to be a gullible moron to just take them for granted.

Re:Actually... (1)

Toonol (1057698) | more than 4 years ago | (#33296092)

I ran into this a while ago, when I read on slashdot somebody claiming that hemp had a far greater percentage of fiber than any other crop. Turns out it doesn't, it's right in line with cotton and other crops, but an incorrect number that was published in one magazine article in the 50's has been circulating ever since. Since the number errored on the HIGH side, it became a 'useful' number, and so gets constantly repeated. I'm confident that the person I corrected continued using the incorrect number, even though I cited the source.

Re:Actually... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33296116)

I heard your same theory debunking your common knowledge theme many times, what is the source for this theory?

Re:Actually... (3, Funny)

RobertM1968 (951074) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295886)

The fundamental problem is that most people are credulous morons.

I dunno... my studies show that only about 80% of people are credulous morons, while 50% of people are moronic intellectuals.

Re:Actually... (2, Funny)

Pennidren (1211474) | more than 4 years ago | (#33296250)

The fundamental problem is that most people are credulous morons.

I BELIEVE YOU!

Re:Actually... (1)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | more than 4 years ago | (#33296338)

You wish. Most credulous people are actually quite cunning when it comes to selecting facts.

Re:Actually... (1)

Guido69 (513067) | more than 4 years ago | (#33296850)

The fundamental problem appears to really be that there are just far too many cats.

Re:Actually... (1)

wxjones (721556) | more than 4 years ago | (#33297352)

87.3% of them to be exact.

Re:Actually... (2, Informative)

HTH NE1 (675604) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295614)

"The question they asked was not whether men would rather date bosses or secretaries," she [Pulitzer-prize winning science writer Deborah Blum] told me. "It was whether they'd be more attracted to a women who could tell you if you could go to the bathroom or not, or a women who brought you coffee."

I should derive a bullshit statistic on how many Pulitzer prize winners don't know the difference between the plural "women" and the singular "woman", though I'm pretty sure it is Christie Keith's own error in failing to accurately quote her. Either that, or her editor is an idiot or a dyslexic that hasn't learned to overcome his/her disability.

"And when all the programs on all the channels actually were made by actors with cleft palates, speaking lines by dyslexic writers, filmed by blind cameramen, instead of merely seeming like that, it somehow made the whole thing more worthwhile." -- Douglas Adams, radio play 'The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy' (Fit the Eleventh)

Re:Actually... (1)

Dr Max (1696200) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295790)

You mean an iphone users might not actually be getting more sex than blackberry and android users. Even though they did a comprehensive analysis from a dating website poll, about the number of partners people say they have had.

Re:Actually... (1)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295878)

Basically. Though you need to put some number or hyperbole comparison on it, and make it a short and catchy sound bite for best results.

Sort of how like in the article it wasn't just "cats sometimes have more kittens" or "cats kill a lot of birds" that got to be circulated into near impossible to debunk, but catchier stuff with numbers, like "an unspayed cat can produce 42,000 cats in 5 years" or "a cat can kill a billion birds". Sounds more scientific that way. It practically implies that you have a scientific study somewhere that backs it up to within one significant digit.

Or sorta like how "87.2% of statistics are made up on the spot" is catchier than "some statistics are made up one the spot."

And try calling it a "study" not a website poll. Sounds more scientific.

For phone users, try "study shows iPhone users are 3.27 times likelier to have sex than Android users" or "study shows on the average iPhone user has more sex than Ron Jeremy" and you have practically a winner.

Or of course you can try to go for something that (A) preys on worse fears, and (B) doesn't sound as frivolous. E.g., "study shows iPhone users are 3.19 times likelier to get hired in management jobs."

Re:Actually... (4, Informative)

woodrad (1091201) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295844)

I agree with you. I think this problem is certainly bad in IT, but even worse in drug policy. It seems that drugs are really, really scary things to most people and prohibitionists seem to love statistics and damn lies. Some great examples: the crack epidemic, cocaine deaths, and meth babies. Some sources: http://reason.com/archives/2009/05/28/birth-of-a-cocaine-factoid [reason.com] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/27/health/27coca.html?_r=1 [nytimes.com] http://www.jointogether.org/news/yourturn/commentary/2005/meth-science-not-stigma-open.html [jointogether.org]

Re:Actually... (1)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295892)

Oh, drug policy is the proverbial low hanging fruit there. I only mentioned IT and CS because we're on Slashdot, but, yeah, if we're doing a top of domains where it happens the most, I'll have to admit that drug-related politics would be way up there.

Re:Actually... (1)

woodrad (1091201) | more than 4 years ago | (#33296244)

You're right: it's easy. And I like easy. No doubt the /. crowd definitely appreciated the IT examples more, but if I can help an undergrad write a paper, why not.

The proves one thing... (1)

FunkyRider (1128099) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295166)

That animal on planet Earth is dying for SEX!!!!!!! Yo slashdotters wake up and try to have some!

No Don't Ruin This, I Need This! (4, Funny)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295174)

When I was a kid, I used to sit there smashing mosquitoes that bit me. Every time I smashed one fat with blood, I relished the idea that I had just killed a female mosquito who was about to lay thousands of eggs. And those mosquitoes would in turn breed and lay thousands of eggs and I had essentially just ended the lives of an infinite number of mosquitoes!

Please, just let me have this -- your environmental constraints and logical reasoning be damned!

Re:No Don't Ruin This, I Need This! (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33295256)

Reminds me of the following: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/21/if-i-hadnt-killed-52-flies-as-a-child-how-many-descendants-would-they-have-had-by-now

Re:No Don't Ruin This, I Need This! (5, Insightful)

cappp (1822388) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295274)

That's pretty much TFA's point, and it's a scary one. Interest groups propogate faulty statistics so as to support questionable claims. Exaggeration, conflation, and the like does nothing more than undermine legitimate concerns. We've seen it with climate change - the desire to effect policy by presenting worst case scenario journalism has just fed the other side.
I remember when I got the "you're a guy so try not to rape everyone" speech in college. Good underlying point...concent is important, getting concent is complicated, sex under the influence is generally a bad idea. It was totally undermined by the 1-in-4 statistic, and the way in which it was presented, and ultimatly served to offend my friends and I while also instilling the seeds of anti-feminism (ooh those stupid fem-nazis and their crazy ideas....)in a bunch of guys. The stat is wrong, it's been shown to be lacking, and it's still repeated. It has significant utility and so it's not questioned but, ultimatly, it does more to harm a good cause than it does to support it.

Re:No Don't Ruin This, I Need This! (2, Informative)

RabidRabbit23 (1576305) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295620)

For your future knowledge, it is 1-in-5 not 1-in-4. I would consider those to be almost the same. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00049859.htm [cdc.gov] "Female students (20.4%) were significantly more likely than male students (3.9%) to report they had ever been forced to have sexual intercourse."

Re:No Don't Ruin This, I Need This! (5, Insightful)

cappp (1822388) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295874)

Which is somewhat my point. We were specifically told that 1 in 4 women would be raped on campus. Not 1 in 5 in her lifetime. Not with all the significant caveats and modifiers that precede the numbers at the CDC you've referenced (the 1995 numbers). Check out the 2007 numbers [cdc.gov] - it’s now 20 to 25% either attempted or completed. The Institute of Justice found that [usdoj.gov]

A survey of college women found that 2.8 percent had experienced either a completed (1.7 percent) or an attempted (1.1 percent) rape within a 9-month timeframe.
13.7% of undergraduate women had been victims of at least one completed sexual assault since entering college: 4.7% were victims of physically forced sexual assault; 7.8% of women were sexually assaulted when they were incapacitated after voluntarily consuming drugs, alcohol or both; and 0.6% were sexually assaulted when they were incapacitated after having been given a drug without their knowledge
Finally, a national-level study of college and community based women found that approximately 673,000 of nearly 6 million current college women (11.5 percent) have ever been raped, and approximately twelve percent of these rapes were reported to law enforcement

I'm not questioning the underlying idea that rape is pervasive and wrong. What I'm getting at is that by dragging out exaggerated, faulty numbers you introduce weakness into an argument. Those men in that room would have been horrified to hear that 13.7% of women had been sexually assaulted on campus - but that numbers not sexy enough for widespread hyperbole. All it took was for one guy to do a little digging into the stats, find the body of literature that criticized the methodology of that one source, and campus rape became a joke to half the community. Instead of disgust we had widespread disdain for the claim itself, and that is extremely damaging.

There is something extremely patronising, or condescending, which presumes that people cannot be motivated by subtle or nuanced arguments – every problem doesn’t have to directly affect 98.43% of the population to count.

Re:No Don't Ruin This, I Need This! (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33295960)

I wonder if part of it was almost like a sense of relief to find out it wasn't 25%, but more like 13%? While that's still horrendous (as you point out) it's lower, and therefore sounds much better, almost like the actual rate had dropped by half, when the first number was just bullshit.

Re:No Don't Ruin This, I Need This! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33297458)

13.7% is still too much, I doubt it's real. More likely they had drunken sex and pretended it was rape, or simply made it up.

Re:No Don't Ruin This, I Need This! (1)

cappp (1822388) | more than 4 years ago | (#33296630)

And by "precede the numbers at the CDC" I of course meant, "following the numbers at the CDC"

Re:No Don't Ruin This, I Need This! (-1, Troll)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#33296032)

"Female students (20.4%) were significantly more likely than male students (3.9%) to report they had ever been forced to have sexual intercourse."

And not all forced sexual intercourse is rape. Especially given that a number of women still do the "no means yes" game for testing mates.

Re:No Don't Ruin This, I Need This! (1)

PaulWhoIsAGhost (1862940) | more than 4 years ago | (#33296200)

"No" means "no", you dope. There's a difference between being coy -- a very strict and limited set of behaviours, which are flagrantly obvious as such -- and resisting somebody's advances. Are you unable to grasp this? If you actually have to force someone to have sex with you, you're raping them. If they actually wanted this to occur, the intention would be unmistakably clear.

Re:No Don't Ruin This, I Need This! (2)

jc42 (318812) | more than 4 years ago | (#33296708)

If you actually have to force someone to have sex with you, you're raping them. If they actually wanted this to occur, the intention would be unmistakably clear.

Oh, nonsense. I've been told by several women, usually several years after the fact, that I'd disappointed them by ignoring their offers of sex. Fact was that they'd just been a bit too subtle for my simple mind. Maybe their intention was unmistakably clear to someone else, but it wasn't to me.

Of course, I suppose they could have been lying to me with this later claim. In either case, it's obvious that I've misunderstood at least some of their intentions.

Re:No Don't Ruin This, I Need This! (1)

aiht (1017790) | more than 4 years ago | (#33297280)

Sure it can be easy to miss somebody's subtle advances, when they are interested.
But if you had made a move with someone who was not interested?
You would definitely know if she's not happy when you take her pants off.

Re:No Don't Ruin This, I Need This! (2, Interesting)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#33297286)

"No" means "no", you dope. There's a difference between being coy -- a very strict and limited set of behaviours, which are flagrantly obvious as such -- and resisting somebody's advances. Are you unable to grasp this? If you actually have to force someone to have sex with you, you're raping them. If they actually wanted this to occur, the intention would be unmistakably clear.

Ah great a unicorn believer. Last I heard, the dating/mating game frequently isn't like that. And that 20% "forced sex" study includes women who chose to have sex even though they didn't want to. That group doesn't count as "rape" in my book.

Re:No Don't Ruin This, I Need This! (1)

kurokame (1764228) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295628)

Well you would say that, wouldn't you, you dirty terrorist?

That's right, I saw you smoking that marijuana.

Re:No Don't Ruin This, I Need This! (1)

xs650 (741277) | more than 4 years ago | (#33296330)

There are people in this world who justify their behavior by saying others do whatever obnoxious behavior they have done.

Does telling a warped person predisposed toward rape that rape is so common on a college campus that it is OK? I think it could.

Re:No Don't Ruin This, I Need This! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33297470)

Interest groups propogate faulty statistics so as to support questionable claims. Exaggeration, conflation, and the like does nothing more than undermine legitimate concerns.

Reminds me of the RIAA.

Re:No Don't Ruin This, I Need This! (2, Funny)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295404)

And well you did by smashing those female mosquitoes: my computations shows beyond doubt that, if you not have done that, the entire biomass of the earth would be now made of mosquitoes!

I'll rush to publish this statistic and start a new one on rodent population, stay tuned.

Numbers don't matter! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33295194)

When you're not getting any pussy.

What about (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33295224)

6 million jews...

Uncaptioned? (3, Funny)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295250)

That just means we have the opportunity to make our own captions!

i can haz kitenz?

Go Go Gadget Pointless Thread:

Re:Uncaptioned? (3, Funny)

jd (1658) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295316)

Unkaptshunned Kittehs aer a kryme agaynst kitteh-hood. Unless dey're orinj. Teh orinj wuns aer poyson.

Made up statistics (-1)

Psychotic_Wrath (693928) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295262)

38% of all statistics are made up!

Re:Made up statistics (0)

jd (1658) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295348)

I thought it was 79.5%.

Re:Made up statistics (2, Funny)

raxhonp (136733) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295428)

I just got the results from the latest survey, they say it's actually 103.7%.

Re:Made up statistics (1)

jeffasselin (566598) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295810)

No, that's the radio station you heard it on!

Re:Made up statistics (1)

Nutria (679911) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295612)

to halt computing is to shackle the mind

Very ironic, considering that TFA was about how bumper sticker phrases spread so much BS.

Re:Made up statistics (1)

jd (1658) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295642)

As you are the first to have noticed my .sig, I'll give you the opportunity to tell me where it is from and what it relates to.

Re:Made up statistics (1)

Nutria (679911) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295756)

where it is from and what it relates to.

Doesn't matter: you're using it as a "bumper sticker".

Re:Made up statistics (1)

jd2112 (1535857) | more than 4 years ago | (#33296102)

Very ironic, considering that TFA was about how bumper sticker phrases spread so much BS.

The worst were a couple that were popular a couple of years ago:
Obama/Biden 08
And
McCain/Palin 08

Re:Made up statistics (2, Informative)

Anarki2004 (1652007) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295574)

Right, and 5/4 people have trouble with fractions....

Huh? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33295278)

With all the fucking bullshit that ends up on the front page. All the iPhone astroturfing, all the Android FUD, all the iPhone FUD and Android astroturfing, all the dupes and tripes and all the dopes. All the ridiculous "Ask Slashdot"s that could have been solved with 2 minutes Googling...

This ends up in idle? Mis-reporting of unsubstantiated facts by news-outlets may not be news, but it's stuff that matters, and if ever there was an example of something that shouldn't have been consigned to the idle bin, this is it! Adding some stupid allusion to lolcats does not make it idle-worthy. If someone submitted a story about the pope dying and added "His hat looks a bit like a wang! LOL" does it follow that the story should go on the Funny Pages?

Re:Huh? (1)

HBoar (1642149) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295520)

Well, TFA is an amusing read, but it's hardly news.... It's not like we don't all know this is going on all around us. I guess it's a high quality article for Idle, but it'd be a pretty low quality news story...

Everyone knows... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33295288)

78% of all statistics are just made up.

Stats often come from the Pidoma Institute... (2, Insightful)

JetScootr (319545) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295300)

Pidoma == Pulled It Directly From My... uh... Mid Air.

LOL (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33295308)

i iz in ur mind, reproducing.

Finally... (-1, Flamebait)

Just_Say_Duhhh (1318603) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295318)

We can all agree that all the Anthropogenic Climate Change data [global-gre...arming.com] is just a bunch of hooey! "Sticky Numbers," indeed!

More reliable statistics (4, Funny)

Bogtha (906264) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295326)

Re:More reliable statistics (1)

SheeEttin (899897) | more than 4 years ago | (#33297220)

Funny site... On my first try of answering questions, I got this Slashdot-(comment-)worthy result: http://cats-or-dogs.com/results/2/14705/ [cats-or-dogs.com]

Huh? (5, Insightful)

martin-boundary (547041) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295364)

I don't know what kind of maths they do in the Wall St Journal (yeah, I actually RTFA), but according to the maths that I do from the unfashionable side of my mother's basement, the actual number of offspring after 5 years starting with a single unspayed female cat is zero.

Now, if one starts with two cats however, the number could well be higher...

Re:Huh? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33295552)

What if you start with a single cat which happens to be a pregnant female?

Re:Huh? (5, Funny)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295590)

... in 3 million years you get a race of bipeds evolved from cats that are uber cool and fight wars over what colors their hats should be?

Re:Huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33295616)

Assume that an willing female has access to as many males as possible. AFAIK, this holds true for all species.

Re:Huh? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33295766)

*math

or alternatively, *mathematics

not maths. you don't just randomly remove part of the word in the middle -- enjoy your daily dose of sanity, logic, and reason, inept.

Re:Huh? (1)

daveime (1253762) | more than 4 years ago | (#33296572)

Seems to work for the Yanks.

Honor ?
Color ?

Who stole all the fucking 'u's ? Not to mention the rape that is committed to the letter 'h'

Onor ?
Erb ?

And what on earth do Canadians think they are doing ?

The word is Caramel, not Carmel.

You were saying ?

Re:Huh? (1)

_Sprocket_ (42527) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295858)

I wonder how many LOCcats that would end up being.

(Libraries of Congresses filled with cats)

Re:Huh? (1)

SheeEttin (899897) | more than 4 years ago | (#33297240)

Yeah, I got a question like that on a test in high school once... we were given a fictional creature (one, either female or unspecified gender), and the rate at which they reproduce, and told to find how many creatures there would be after so much time.
I puzzled over whether the answer was "one" or whatever the math worked out to, because it was fictional and there was no indication of whether the creature reproduced sexually, asexually, or whatever. Turned out, the answer was, sure enough, one.

That's why (1)

oldhack (1037484) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295366)

I never, ever RTFA. No, I didn't.

Meaning of life (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33295390)

'...result in 420,000 cats in 5 years,'

420,000 = 42 * 10,000 => 42 = meaning of life

Do your own math (3, Informative)

mugnyte (203225) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295406)

Age to maturity: 6 to 10 months
Litters per year: 0 to 3
Litter size: 1 to 8

so, using a changing multipler for newborns of
    year1= 0 to 12 offspring
    year2,3,4,5 = 0 to 24 offspring

i get values around
end year1: 1 to 25 cats
end year2: 1 to 300 cats
end year3: 1 to 3900 cats
end year4: 1 to 54k cats
end year5: 1 to 835k cats

So it pretty much stands as a useless range

Re:Do your own math (3, Interesting)

JWSmythe (446288) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295576)

Of course it's a worthless statistic, that's why they use it. :)

    They never (and can't) account for population restrictions. That could include...

  Food supply. If there are too many cats, not enough food, some cats die of starvation. There are an abundance of natural controls at work there. Malnurished animals don't tend to reproduce very well. But, if there is a good food supply (rodents, birds, snakes, etc), they will reproduce more.

  Natural mistakes. Not every animal is born perfectly. Some are stillborn. Some die at only a few days or weeks old due to health problems.

    Illnesses. Sick animals without treatment have a lower chance of survival.

    Predators. A bunch of warm fuzzy kittens running around make good snacks for birds of prey. Well, also for foxes, coyotes, snakes, alligators, etc, etc, etc. Sometimes it doesn't have to be a predator that can actually eat it. I had a cat who was bitten twice by poisonous snakes. She could have died without medical assistance. Since she was a pet, she had readily available food and water. The same can't be said for feral animals.

    And of course we have to mention human influences. People taking feral cats out of the population to make fixed house pets out of them. Some may be trapped and sent off to the pound and subsequently euthanized. Others are killed through accidents, such as catastrophic intersections between the animal and vehicle vectors (i.e., run over).

    There are plenty of statistics on the likelihood of a feral animal surviving to maturity. That varies tremendously by their local environment. A stray cat in a suburban neighborhood may live very happily, as there are not many natural predators around (except humans). They'll also likely have access to food and water left outside for pets. A stray cat in a wooded area will have less of a chance. Sometimes the distance between the two is only a few miles.
As with the statistics in the article, you cannot blindly assume either set of statistics is correct.

    I love statistics. They can be used to prove or disprove anything, and you can usually find statistics to argue both sides of the same issue. The statistics can be dramatically swayed by who paid for the study to be done.

Re:Do your own math (2, Informative)

madmarcel (610409) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295924)

Illnesses. Sick animals without treatment have a lower chance of survival.

FIV. It is rampant in feral cat colonies. It has also mutated so that there are strains unique to specific areas and/or colonies. Unlike HIV it spreads via bites and scratches btw.

I worked with a PhD student doing research on a specific strain of FIV unique to the country I live in - you should've seen some of the feral monsters she dissected. Size of frikkin' horses with fangs that would make Dracula jealous.

Re:Do your own math (1)

JWSmythe (446288) | more than 4 years ago | (#33297234)

    That sounds more like she was dissecting chupacabra, not feral cats. Are you sure her PhD isn't in cryptozoology? :) Do you have any pictures? :)

Too simplistic a model (3, Insightful)

SuperKendall (25149) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295940)

They never (and can't) account for population restrictions. That could include...

    Food supply. If there are too many cats, not enough food, some cats die of starvation.

That's a nice textbook analysis of natural limits to population.

But you are totally ignoring the reality of a very specific situation - feral cats in urban areas. What exactly is the natural control at work? Cats are wary, not many are killed by accidents. There is abundant food in an urban environment thanks to dumpsters. Furthermore, cats are great natural predators and left unchecked will decimate a bird population. You seriously think "birds of prey" in a modern city are enough to do ANYTHING to a feral cat population? If you don't care about any other wildlife then ignoring wild cat populations is a great way to see most of it decline.

People taking feral cats out of the population to make fixed house pets out of them.

A really feral cat CANNOT be made a pet. If you get them really, really early as kittens (a few weeks old) you can, but after that - forget it.

Not to mention shelters have to kill plenty of cats that are not feral to begin with, because there aren't even enough people to take cats simply abandoned...

The truth is more of a range but the reality is on the high end of the range, in any modern city. The groups posting these figures may be giving you a number somewhat too high but they are not as far off as you and other people thinking of statistics in simple terms seem to think.

The best solution is to trap cats, spay/neuter, and then release them. This keeps cat populations at a much lower natural limit, as the cats will still keep other cats out of a territorial area but cannot produce new kittens that keep a colony growing and then go out to form new colonies.

Re:Too simplistic a model (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#33296096)

What exactly is the natural control at work?

Disease, most likely.

There is abundant food in an urban environment thanks to dumpsters.

In the absence of any other limit the population will grow to the limit of the food supply.

If you don't care about any other wildlife then ignoring wild cat populations is a great way to see most of it decline.

The coyote population won't decline.

The best solution is to trap cats, spay/neuter, and then release them.

Better to vasectomize the males. That way they continue to cover the females (cats are induced ovulators) and defend territories.

Cheaper to just kill them, though.

Re:Too simplistic a model (1)

SuperKendall (25149) | more than 4 years ago | (#33297518)

Disease, most likely.

Wild cats don't have many diseases that kill them or prevent them from mating.

In the absence of any other limit the population will grow to the limit of the food supply.

What I'm saying is that in an urban area that limit is very high, since there is food EVERYWHERE.

The coyote population won't decline.

Feral cats are rarely killed by coyotes, even if there were enough in urban populations to matter. Coyotes are eating pets, who are not at all wary like a feral cat is. Just one trademark of a feral cat is that it is utterly silent, and will never meow...

Better to vasectomize the males. That way they continue to cover the females

Who will still produce babies because you will never sterilize ALL the males, so you essentially did nothing at all. Good work!

Cheaper to just kill them, though.

Also stupider because new cats will simply move into the same space. Again, you've sent a lot of effort for no gain whatsoever, unless I guess you enjoy killing cats Mr Bernard. Good work!

Re:Too simplistic a model (1)

JWSmythe (446288) | more than 4 years ago | (#33296416)

But you are totally ignoring the reality of a very specific situation - feral cats in urban areas. What exactly is the natural control at work?

    With urban sprawl, "urban" or "suburban" areas have grown into what was wild natural areas. At one house I lived in, I was talking to people who had lived there since the community was built. 15 years prior, it wasn't uncommon to see wild foxes or otters. The area was almost infested with large snakes. When I moved in, the first day I saw an osprey land on a tree branch no more than 100 feet from the house. We spotted wild animals on a fairly regular basis.

    In Los Angeles, we had a problem with coyotes. When they were hungry and the food supply was poor, they would come into the neighborhoods looking for food. That food could be food left out for pets, but more commonly it was pets themselves who became their food. I called animal control to ask what could be done. This was a few years ago, so the rules may have changed, but what I was told was this. They were not allowed to trap wild animals, unless they posed an immediate threat to a human. The community, or individuals, could hire trappers, but the coyote population was large enough where taking a few out wouldn't pose a significant impact to their population. I asked about shooting them. They were posing a threat to my family (coming up to the house, pawing at the doors because we had pets). I was told that it is illegal to discharge a firearm inside the Los Angeles city limits. I then asked a more subtle question, "What happens if you find a dead coyote that has been shot?" Unofficially, they wouldn't report the fact that it had been shot. They would only report that a dead wild animal was found and disposed of.

    Almost anywhere along the edges of a large metro area, you'll find plenty of wild predators. It's perfectly likely to find faster moving ones (such as birds of prey) in the interior of a city. If they are hungry, and can find the food, they will go after it.

    I've either spotted or found signs of coyotes, hawks, osprey, huge owls, and buzzards in urban locations. Beyond the predators, I've seen plenty of squirrels, opossums, and armadillos. For example, I almost ran over an armadillo late one night near the intersection of Colorado St and Brand Blvd, in Glendale, CA. [google.com] There were frequent sightings of coyotes nearby. I'd have a hard time calling that a rural area. It may not be times square, but it's urban.

    Well ... I guess even in Manhattan, there are predatory animals. There was coyote caught in Manhattan [nypost.com] just a few months ago. I'll concede that other predators, such as alligators, most likely won't be found in too many urban settings (except in US states bordering the Gulf of Mexico, and a few others towards the south on the Atlantic coast).

A really feral cat CANNOT be made a pet. If you get them really, really early as kittens (a few weeks old) you can, but after that - forget it.

    Well, you can. It's not like you can walk up and say "hi kitty, let me hold you." It takes significant time.

    I grew up on a farm. There were feral cats living in the woods nearby. They would come out looking for food, and we would spot them. With truly feral cats (i.e., several generations wild), it could take months of baiting them with food, just to get them to come close enough to touch. Even then, it was weeks or months of reassurance to get them comfortable enough to be picked up. After a good bit of time, most of them became comfortable with coming into the house, and were housebroken.

    We didn't do it because they were pets out in the wild. They did fine in the wild on their own. We did do it to reduce the feral cat population, and domesticate them. Wild animals were a hazard to small animals we had on the farm. They didn't usually pose much of a threat to the large animals, except for a hungry alligator who decided a cow looked like food.

    One in particular was an old orange tabby. By the time we baited him close enough for us to look at him, we noticed that he had cataracts, and significant scars from fighting over the years. When we could actually touch him, we did take him to get neutered. He was never comfortable coming into the house, but he did come to sleep on our porch at night, and in time he was fine with humans touching him and carrying him. He finally died of old age on our porch, 6 or 7 years after we first spotted him.

    More recently, in a suburb of a large metro area, a friend heard a kitten crying. Well, more like screaming. The community had walls between the houses and the main road. The kitten had wandered about a mile away from a neighboring wooded area. At the time, we weren't sure if it was a lost pet, or a feral animal. We trapped it by hand, brought it to the house, and kept it locked in a bathroom overnight with food and water. It was very difficult to deal with, and was very clearly a wild animal. There was no way it would be domesticated in days or even months.

   

Re:Too simplistic a model (1)

SuperKendall (25149) | more than 4 years ago | (#33297538)

He was never comfortable coming into the house,

Exactly. You can get a feral cat to take food from you but it's never going to be a pet. It's not logical to claim the feral cat population will decline because of adoption, when there are many perfectly ready cats already available for adoption at any given moment in time.

And that was in a rural area, where easy access to food is harder to come by - in an urban or city environment a cat really doesn't need your handouts as much, because there is so much garbage all over...

Re:Too simplistic a model (1)

HereIAmJH (1319621) | more than 4 years ago | (#33296524)

But you are totally ignoring the reality of a very specific situation - feral cats in urban areas. What exactly is the natural control at work? Cats are wary, not many are killed by accidents. There is abundant food in an urban environment thanks to dumpsters. Furthermore, cats are great natural predators and left unchecked will decimate a bird population.

Starvation is definitely a limiting factor, at least in suburban areas. My mom's neighborhood has seen an increase in stray cats since the housing bust. Her county has been the leader in foreclosures every quarter for over 2 years.

But to the point, she rescued a cat last year that was starving. It was about 2-3 months old and if she hadn't fed it, it would have lasted maybe a couple more weeks. We had assumed it was barely weaned when she captured it, but after taking it to the vet she found it was nearly 3 months old and it's growth was stunted. It's still very skittish. You can't pick it up and if it doesn't know you, you won't see it.

As far as decimating the bird population, I haven't seen that either. For years my mom has had bird feeders in her yard. Being retired, she likes to watch the birds. Despite having two female cats with 3-4 kittens (combined) living under a neighbor's shed she hasn't seen a decrease in birds or squirrels.

That's unfortunate in one particular case, pigeons. Those things multiply faster than rats.

From my experience traffic and starvation are definite limiting factors for cats in populated areas. Spaying is certainly a preferable method for population control and there are a few catch, spay, and release organizations in town. Too bad they aren't as successful doing the same with deer. One local city had to run a special hunt with police sharpshooters to reduce the deer population in a park. They had to kill over 300 deer due to problem with starvation, disease, and encounters with SUVs.

Re:Do your own math (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33295798)

Expected values? Standard deviations? Who needs statistics, after all?!

Also, cats die?! That's unpossible!!

Better ranges (2, Informative)

SuperKendall (25149) | more than 4 years ago | (#33296044)

A healthy female cat is going to have a littler every year. A litter is going to be greater than one cat, guaranteed.

The low end of your range is thus not realistic.

To give only the upper end of that range is misleading but not as bad as your range, which hides a real problem by saying that there may not be one.

What you should really do is use an average figure as a base, which is four cats per littler (of course for the purposes of growth you would use something like half that number to account for only the female cats producing offspring).

Also cats can have up to four litters per year. Winter is actually not much of an impediment in urban areas where cats can readily find warm spaces.

So you get something more like:

year 1 - 12 cats, six female. (assuming 3 litters on average with four cats each)
year 2 - 72 new cats, 42 female (leaving in previous female cats)
year 3 - 504 new cats, 294 breeding females
year 4 - 3528 new cats, 2052 breeding females (assumed first six are dead now).
year 5 - 24k cats

The problem is not on the same order of magnitude as the high end, but is probably a realistic model of feral cat population growth. The reality is that in urban environments feral cats really are everywhere. The truth is that controlling feral cat populations does make an impact, if nothing else it helps out other species like birds that cats hunt.

Re:Do your own math (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33297274)

Did you account for the fact that only female cats can lay eggs?

Cat Flood (1)

EdZ (755139) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295490)

Did you find yourself hip-deep in cats the last time you left the house?

If you're a Dorf [magmawiki.com] , you don't even need to leave.

Pretty obvious where this came from (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33295508)

Dude 1: We just got the calcs back. It's about 500 cats.

Dude 2: No way, man! That's like... more than 420.

Dude 1: Wow! 420! (takes another toke).

Dude 2: No way man. 420 thouuuusand.

(both) busted up laughing.

And the next day, they couldn't believe it got into the report, and neither one wanted to explain why, so they just swept that under the rug and ran with it.

It's a good thing too because (1)

nbauman (624611) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295602)

in 5 years, 1 unspayed mouse will have 60,466,176 offspring.

Re:It's a good thing too because (1)

catmistake (814204) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295770)

in 5 years, 1 unspayed mouse will have 60,466,176 offspring.

WTF- who spays mice?? LOL

Re:It's a good thing too because (2, Funny)

Telecommando (513768) | more than 4 years ago | (#33296300)

I used a spade on one I found in my garage last month.

Only use 10% of your brain myth (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33295636)

The urban legend about only uses 10% of your brain is the one that seems to pop up the most, and annoy me the most.

All Rachael Carson's Fault (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295656)

If we were still using DDT there'd be no songbirds. Without a billion songbirds to eat those 420,000 cats would starve. As a bonus, without cats to eat the coyotes would starve.

Re:All Rachael Carson's Fault (1)

daveime (1253762) | more than 4 years ago | (#33296606)

And without songbirds, we'd be overrun with dirty great spiders.

MCI Worldcom (1)

nonguru (1777998) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295786)

Slashdot readers aren't immune to this phenomenon. At the height of the Internet Bubble, there was the infamous MCI Worldcom report on fibre backbone needing to double every MONTH to carry the predicted rise in broadband internet traffic. That figure was quoted and requoted in many serious media sources and various blogs without anybody querying it until Worldcom became mired in fraud allegations and bankruptcy. Mind you - many companies (over)invested in capacity and the traffic didn't eventuate to generate the necessary revenues.

More Or Less @BBC (2, Interesting)

datakid23 (1706976) | more than 4 years ago | (#33295816)

More Or Less [bbc.co.uk] is off air atm, but is a wonderful podcast that is probably best described as "Myth Busters for Statistics". Highly recommended.

420K in 5 years isn't that far off (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33295952)

if its offspring were to remain unfixed and also bred for 5 years.. could theoretically exceed 500K in about 9 1/2 years with a birth rate of three 4-kitten litters (50% female) per year, per adult female over their respective 5 year breeding period

Re:420K in 5 years isn't that far off (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33296086)

No, it's way off...and even further than the so-called "expert" says it is...with the claim being:

The offspring of a single unspayed cat will, within five years, add up to 420,000 cats.

I'm having trouble figure out how a single unspayed cat can create a single offspring, let alone thousands. Last I checked, mammalian reproduction required at least 2 participants.

A Bullshit Article from a Breeder-Industry Flack (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33295980)

Ms. Keith is a for-profit breeder. Along with constantly complaining about any sort of law or regulation on the unfettered ability of animals to procreate (whihc would, of course, impact her own bottom line), she loves to rail against pet vaccinations. I do get a kick out of her opening sentence about how she walked out of the house and didn't see any cats. Feral cats actively hide from humans, you fucking moron.

Dwarf Fortress? (1)

Ostsol (960323) | more than 4 years ago | (#33296100)

Did their research come from experiencing cat-splosion during a Dwarf Fortress session?

Elephants too (1)

Ken_g6 (775014) | more than 4 years ago | (#33296228)

I heard [wikipedia.org] that the African elephant population has tripled in the past six months.

TFA is a self commentary (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33296268)

From the beginning of TFA: "The offspring of a single unspayed cat will, within five years, add up to 420,000 cats."

By the end of TFA: "If large numbers of people believe -- and convince public policy makers to believe -- that a single unspayed cat can produce 420,000 descendents in seven years [...]"

Can I has LOLStats? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33296706)

Sory.

Study shows... (1)

Drakkenmensch (1255800) | more than 4 years ago | (#33297048)

Norm McDonald once said that you can have people believe anything you tell them, as long as you preceed it with the words "Study shows"... the funny because it's eerily right.
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