The Economist chimes in on Terry Teachout's post on The Bridge, a documentary about Suicides on the Golden Gate Bridge.
The Economist typically has sharp people on staff, familiar with statistics and the scientific method. Apparently, sometimes that all gets tossed to the trashheap when it comes to their blog:
Given that the top risk factors for suicide are family history of suicide, previous attempts, and the seriousness of those previous attempts, I would be sceptical too. Many suicides are a cry for help (which is not to dismiss them; any cry that serious should be heeded.) Lumping those in with the people who really are eaten by despair gives a false optimism.
The Economist follow on with Teachout's idea that two kinds of suicides exist: the get it over with quicklies, and the agonized slowlies. Since 90% of prevented suicide attemptors go on to live until they naturally expire, the Economist feels this implies that two groups exist: diehards and pansies. The pansies go on to live more happily ever after, while the die-hards just get it right the next time.
The Economist should know better. Just because one can think up an alternate explanation, doesn't mean that it actually does any explaining. How do I turn their conjecture into a falsifiable hypothesis? How do I ahead of time tell pansies from die-hards?
While statistics as a pretty math bauble may make you seem smart, Statistics in the service of the Scientific Method helps us all.