The Corner

Dept of Uninteresting Stats

Derb – Maybe you can help me here. Last night I was on CNN. The segment before mine was this odd discussion of John Edwards’ brother’s drunk driving which was the news peg for a longer discussion about troublesome presidential brothers. They had a historian of first families on to discuss this weighty issue. And he said, very somberly, that he did the research and found that “nearly half” of all Presidents are first borns. And since first borns strive to succeed, blah, blah…blah. I found this stat to be next to useless. After all, this means that more than half of all presidents were not first borns. When I got home I started ranting about it and my lovely bride said I was overreacting. After all families were much bigger back then etc etc. I see her point — and I was overreacting. Still, my question is: Is, say, a 45% first born rate among presidents particularly significant statistically? Forget the psychology here. If you factor in that some presidents may or may not have been only children — and hence first borns by default — and factor out all of the girls, how much different is this than saying “I researched this last night and I discovered that nearly half of all presidents were left-handed.” (Assuming left- and right-handedness are evenly distributed which I know they are not).

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