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These columns generate a pretty steady stream of reaction, but a lot of it is too vituperative to find its way into the pages of the magazine. Most of these responses come via email nowadays, but every once in a while someone actually writes a letter that is typed or handwritten and sent via the U.S. Postal Service. I’m always astonished when I get one of these letters.

In any case, many of these email writers object to my politics, outraged that any persuasion but theirs would find its way into print. We’ve been over this many times before and that is not the subject today.

After blasting me for my politics, the next most frequent complaint is about some of the statistics that populate many of the stories–news and features–that we run.

People just don’t believe a lot of the statistics they read, no matter what the source. I’m sure that doesn’t just apply to what runs in these pages because it seems pretty clear that people believe what they want to believe.

Case in point: I got an email the other day from someone who was outraged over the cover of the Oct. 15 issue, which referred to 77% of American households “reporting themselves as ‘non-traditional.’ “

The email writer wanted to know: “Where do you get your figures from, and who checks them? There is no way your non-traditional households can outnumber the traditional marriages between a husband and wife!”

When I wrote back and said that this is what the U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2000, the writer responded that he did “not believe what the Census Bureau reported.”

But then came the real gist of his response: “I am not opposed to articles on any market, if the agent wants to pursue. I am opposed to ones that appear to further break down and already fragile family unit.”

Thus, the real reason for not believing the statistic–a set of preordained beliefs.

Where this phenomenon rears its head most often, however, is when statistics regarding the uninsured in this country are reported. As the number of uninsured has grown over the last decade, the denials about the accuracy of the number have grown shriller and shriller.

Most deniers just plain flat out refuse to believe the figures, the most recent of which is 47 million, according to (here we go again) the U.S. Census Bureau.

Typical of this is a response to my Sept. 24 column, “Hillary Learns,” which said we are getting very close to 50 million people in this country going bare. The email writer wrote: “Please cite your reference of your listed numbers of the uninsured; 50 million. Your figure is incredible as it is also politically leaning. 16% of the United States of America population is the figure you state as uninsured for medical insurance. I do know where you get this number.”

Then he continued: “This number does not reflect the number of Americans who CHOOSE not to carry medical insurance, college students who CHOOSE not to pay for insurance, and it does reflect the number of illegal aliens who do use the FREE medical services that are provided by hospitals and doctors because they do not turn away anyone who needs medical attention.”

This is far and away the most widely held belief out there regarding the uninsured. There are supposedly millions and millions of people who are CHOOSING not to be covered.

So, I wrote back and gave my source for figures cited and asked the writer for his sources as to people choosing to go without health insurance.

Guess what? I haven’t gotten an answer. I’m not really surprised, however, because if you’re not going to believe statistics in any case then you have to fall back on anecdotal evidence–and that can be hard to collect by the millions.


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