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CDC Data on Gun Injuries Is ‘Less Reliable than Ever’

By: Teresa Mull

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention just released its annual data on the number of people nonfatally injured by guns, and according to FiveThirtyEight, a website that analyzes statistics and opinion polls, “This year’s estimate is less reliable than ever.”

FiveThirtyEight reports:

According to the CDC’s most recent figures, somewhere between 31,000 and 236,000 people were injured by guns in 2017. That range, which represents the confidence interval — the high and low ends of a range of estimates that probably contains the real number, whatever that number is — is almost four times wider than the one given in the agency’s 2001 estimate.

The CDC acknowledges its estimates are unreliable, but as it’s the nation’s premier public health agency, its figures are still widely used by researchers, journalists, and the general public. That the latest numbers have become even more uncertain suggests that the CDC can’t be counted on to accurately estimate the number of gun injuries in the U.S. right now.

The agency’s 2016 and 2017 estimates are flagged with a note cautioning that the figures are “unstable and potentially unreliable.”

FiveThirtyEight reports that, "The CDC’s most recent estimate — nearly 134,000 injuries — suggests that the upward trend in its data is accelerating, with injuries jumping over 57 percent between 2015 and 2017.”

According to the website, part of the CDC’s high level of unreliability is due to the fact that the agency “sources its data from a small number of hospitals.”

FiveThirtyEight noted in a piece published in October 2018 that despite the CDC’s admissions that its data is inaccurate, “…Many researchers have trusted these numbers, or at least referenced them.”

Teresa Mull is editor of Gunpowder Magazine. Contact her at teresa@gunpowdermagazine.com.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Gunpowder Magazine.