Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

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MKG
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Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

Post: # 103433Post MKG »

There are a number of threads buzzing along at the moment which all seem to be about basically the same thing - information: specifically, how to get information out of the higher realms of the scientific rarified atmosphere and into a form which is readily digestible by normal human beings.

Scientists and, to a lesser extent, engineers of all disciplines have an innate inability to communicate with lesser mortals (I know, I've worked with them, and they can't do it - that's what I was doing there in the first place). It's in the nature of those people (big generalisation, I know) to try to appear to be demigodish and not make a fool of themselves in front of their peers. I once corrected a simple Ohm's Law calculation, an action which brought the engineer in question down on me like a ton of bricks to point out that such a thing was not within my remit. He was told that was exactly my remit and to stick a sock in it. I mention that to illustrate that these people tend to think that anyone not strictly associated with their particular disciplines couldn't possibly understand the full ramifications of what they are so tortuously trying to say.

On the other hand there's no doubt that, in some cases, they're right to think so. There used to be a body of people - technical authors - who were the go-betweens and whose skills lay in the simplified (but truthful) presentation of scientific and engineering information. Unfortunately, they've now been transformed into procedural writers for QA systems and software documenters (and some of them weren't any good anyway).

We obviously cannot educate the entire population to the levels required to sort out scientific gobbledy gook (and which disciplines would we choose anyway?) and we obviously cannot re-educate scientists and engineers into adopting a more natural language style. In the vacuum at the moment, some journalists appear to be taking it upon themselves to issue badly-thought-out and poorly-understood missives about the next potential Doomsday ( ... and the next ... and the next ...).

What's the answer? Could it lie in prison-sentencing for the use of unnecessary jargon? Euthenasia for scaremongers? Sliding-scale fines for rumour-starters, the severity of which would depend upon the degree of panic caused (although we'd need statisticians for that, and they're worse than the scientists and engineers).

I just don't know. I'm getting depressed even thinking about it.

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Post: # 103538Post Clara »

Ha! The first day of A-level sociology, I open the text book to find "lies, damn lies and statistics" scrawled by a previous student on the inside cover. Tis true.

I think that it should be part of any useful education at secondary level to be made aware of how statistics are made and how they can be used and for what ends people often twist them or avoid certain ways of presenting them.

It should also be noted that statistics are bunk if you happen to be the unlucky one in whatever whose child is disabled by a vaccine or measles (or whatever....)
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Post: # 103545Post tim&fatima »

20% of all statistics are wrong. :mrgreen:
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Post: # 103575Post Martin »

ho hum, lets go for it!
Science is bunk, and relying upon it as a sane way of making decisions is as illogical as spinning a coin............... :mrgreen:
Put into the context of history, "science" continually develops, and "changes its mind"- continually! (I have referred to this in another thread)- what is the "accepted consensus" this year is "dangerous bunkum" next year!
Then add into the equation "that which is yet undiscovered"...........you sit down with an early Victorian, and try to explain to them the concept of wireless transmission.........you'd be locked up as a dangerous heretic - "voices travelling thousands of miles through the air" - don't be so stupid!
Which to me suggests that healthy scepticism, a large dose of common sense, and a sense of humour is far more likely to end up with you making the "right" decisons for you than blindly accepting scientific pronouncements as "gospel" (however well "translated")! :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen:
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Post: # 103577Post Martin »

thought for the day - about the long-suffering lab rat - the odds of the poor misused lab rat giving the same results as a human being in drug tests are about 40%
- therefore it is more accurate to let the lab rats go, and spin a coin - you'd be 10% more accurate! :wink:
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Post: # 103587Post The Riff-Raff Element »

Martin wrote:thought for the day - about the long-suffering lab rat - the odds of the poor misused lab rat giving the same results as a human being in drug tests are about 40%
Careful - that result is probably the result of some science someone did. Then some stats. So its probably rubbish. This week anyway.

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Post: # 103613Post glenniedragon »

Critical thought is probably the most important skill not taught in schools today. When faced with a report, the questions 'who wrote it? what do they gain from it? where did the backing (financial) come from?, when was it written?' all immediatly come to mind before digesting the details.
eg Senior scientist from a large agrochemicals company writing a report on 'how great chemical fertilizers are' based on research from the 50's would immediatly get my alarm bells ringing, but unfortunatly that isn't the case for all of the population. The 24 hour news channels would probably pick it up to help fill the other 23hours of no news, disseminated as half truths by word of mouth, 6 weeks later claimed as 'fact' down the pub.

Ho hum
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Post: # 103614Post ina »

Quite a lot of the above resonates with me... I work with scientists. :roll: And my role is - to get them to understand a bit more about real life, and to get others to understand that what they do does have some practical purpose. It does, you know - most of the time. :mrgreen:

And most of them mean well. And I've been lucky in meeting very few who are only out for self aggrandisement (or whatever you call that).
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Post: # 103631Post Rachel Squires »

ok so I have to admit - I have been accused of perpetrating science in the past :sleepy2: so I also can see both sides of the coin.

What strikes me is just how closely science and philosophy are related. I had a vague understanding of this before but now I'm studying psychology and psychotherapy, it's becoming much clearer.

As I see it, in order to be a true scientist, you have to be absolutely open minded and avoid if at all possible jumping to any conclusions based on only a tiny data set or a tiny view of the situation. Peoples experience of the world can only be based upon what they have knowledge of - for an extreme example, we can only wonder what those poor Austrian children from the cellar can be feeling now they are seeing a much larger view of the world than they have experienced before. If your understanding of 'everything' is based on what you know and can relate to then you can only make judgements based on this. This means in essence that everyone's judgement is flawed cos no-one knows about 'everything'.

For me, the true path of enlightenment lies in the understanding that the more you learn, the less you know and only an open mind can let anything new in.

Hell, that feels a bit heavy for five to eleven on a saturday morning! :wink:
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Post: # 103651Post Bluemoon »

As a former science teacher I can assure you all that the national curriculum is dumbing down the subject to such an extent that, ten years from now, there won't be any scientists left to misunderstand.

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Post: # 103657Post MKG »

Couple that with a similar dumbing down in the maths and English curricula and we won't even misunderstand the misunderstanding. I have to go back to the UFO files release which, on deeper reading, exhibits the most blatant misuse of statistics brought about by a complete non-understanding of what they actually indicate, begins with a tentative theory which, within twenty pages, has been magically transformed into a premise for further argument, and is written in a version of English which I, if I was in a charitable mood, would describe as juvenile. And this from an official report. The author goes on to be scathing about the standard of English on most of the received reports.

The general standard of education is falling (that's a mild description). Scientific papers (despite my earlier cynicism) are necessarily written using specialised language and terms and clearly understood only by those within the discipline. The people occupying the middle ground, those with the ability to convert from sciencese to everyday-speak, are like rocking horse manure. It's time, I think, for a new degree course aimed specifically at providing the world with more of those people. Scientific journalists don't fit because they tend to write for a well-educated readership which is diminishing. We're looking for B. General Scientific Guru With The Gift For The Gab.

People with a BGSGWTGFTG - that's what we need.

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Post: # 103663Post ina »

MKG wrote: People with a BGSGWTGFTG - that's what we need.
I like that! So far I've only made it to official ACP at work (Acronym Contact Person :oops: ).
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Post: # 103665Post Rachel Squires »

We're looking for B. General Scientific Guru With The Gift For The Gab.

People with a BGSGWTGFTG - that's what we need.
Hmmmm............ not asking for much, are we! :lol:

I know what you mean though, I would love something similar to translate much of the paperwork that DEFRA spews out on a regular basis. I mean, I like to think I'm not stupid but as a relative newbie to larger scale livestock husbandry encompassing rules from DEFRA on cross compliance, the BCMS, the RPA, the state veterinary service, trading standards et al, I can see why so many of the older generation simply give up and retire!

Ho hum :roll:
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Post: # 103675Post MKG »

OMG yes! I'd forgotten about Officialese. (Please respond ONLY if you have previously read this post).

EDIT: Just re-read that - it's a joke (well, an attempt).

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Post: # 103684Post Rachel Squires »

All jokes must be submitted in writing on the appropriate carbon copy form HD14264859-833t34TDG to the authorising body. Please keep the blue copy for your records, send the pink copy to the authorising body, the yellow copy is to be sent to the intended recipient of the joke and the white copy is to be inserted where the sun doesn't shine. Please submit your joke within 3 days of invention UNLESS your joke is over 30 months of age when it will be considered no longer viable as humour to be delivered to humans and therefore must be kept for the purposes of entertaining growing vegetation. All new jokes will require movement records and can only be transported over 30 miles by a person certified as competent in the deliverence of humour. Please note that written humour is considered to be seperate to verbal humour and requires a seperate certificate.

I could go on.....
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