Friday, May 21, 2010

Please, Look at the Data

Clive Thompson looks at why we should understand how to read and draw proper conclusions from data.

Thompson states:

Statistics is hard. But that’s not just an issue of individual understanding; it’s also becoming one of the nation’s biggest political problems. We live in a world where the thorniest policy issues increasingly boil down to arguments over what the data mean. If you don’t understand statistics, you don’t know what’s going on — and you can’t tell when you’re being lied to.

One thing for certain, the "don't bother me with the facts" attitude will not work here.

Consider the economy: Is it improving or not? That’s a statistical question....Or take the raging debate over childhood vaccination, where well-intentioned parents have drawn disastrous conclusions from anecdotal information....There are oodles of other examples of how our inability to grasp statistics — and the mother of it all, probability — makes us believe stupid things. Gamblers think their number is more likely to come up this time because it didn’t come up last time. Political polls are touted by the media even when their samples are laughably skewed.

Of course, not everyone is a trained statistician. However, one does not need to be. We write while not being trained journalist. We use basic math while not being mathematicians.

For starters instead of looking at short term data, learn to consider long term trends with larger amounts of data. Also, understand that when there are correlations between trends or events, this does not mean that one is the cause of the other. In short, please look at the data.

Posted via email from Mark's Musings

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