The media and ignoring averages: King of Norway and Church visits

In 2012 Norway became a secular state, changing the constitution so that everyone has religious freedom and is no longer under the Lutheran protestant faith. The Christian newspaper “Our Land” (Vårt Land) wrote an article about the decline in church visits by the Norwegian King during 2012, attributing this decline to secularism. Let me illustrate how this is a clear example of the media ignoring averages.

It should be noted that this newspaper only comes out twice a week and is aimed at Christian communities, so I would not call it a mainstream newspaper. It does, however, often have objective articles and discuss science (including psychology).

First, the front page of the newspaper and the headline of the article was “The King cuts church visits in half” and goes on to say that in 2011 the King had a total of 18 church visits, while in 2012 it is only 11. Obviously 11 down from 18 is not half! It’s actually a drop in 39%.

Second, looking at the church visits in 2007-2010, you will find that the King had between 10 and 11 church visits every year! So in other words, 11 visits in 2012 is within the average visits per year!

While this is a small time newspaper, it nonetheless illustrates an example of statistic misuse in the media. The newspaper boldly post that the King has cut visits in half, and they suggest this is likely due to Norway becoming a secular state. The latter is especially ridiculous for two reasons: 1) Norway became a secular state in late May 2012, and 2) the King specifically asked for the constitution NOT to be changed concerning himself. He did not want religious freedom for himself or his family. Sounds like a devout Christian to me.

I sent a short letter criticising this to the newspaper itself, but they were of course not interested. They welcomed me to post it online, though.

The article was printed 28/12/12, but you can read it online (in Norwegian), here:
http://www.vl.no/troogkirke/halverte-kirkeprogrammet/

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