Statistical Torture

“If you torture data enough, it will confess to anything you like.”

– Ronald Coase

It’s too hot. It’s too cold. The world is beautiful. The world is ugly.

All of these statements can simultaneously be true. They don’t have to cancel each other out.

Let’s say a man said something sexist. (Which happens a lot, unfortunately) In response to this sexist comment – a white woman said something racist to counter what he said. This doesn’t cancel out each statement being problematic. We tend to fight over what’s worst when all the apples can be spoiled. What’s the point in picking a side when every side has an element that can be proved and corrected?

“We are like the animals on Noah’s Ark arguing about whose shit stinks more, with the boat being the only thing keeping us from certain extinction. If it floats, it is mine as good as yours. “

– Sanada Maitreya

Whenever you look at stats and follow them – it’s easy to torture the hell out of them as Ronald eloquently put it.

Picking sides. Being one tracked minded. All of these definitions to define where we stand can be very isolating. It’s best, to be careful so that we’re not completely self-absorbed in our own evaluations in how we see the world. Have you ever found yourself pushing the limits just to see if it’ll break?

It starts with knowing there’s a limit and yet still seeing how far you can go. Adrenaline is the main reason for this nonsensical pushing and pulling. It’s thrilling and surprises come very rarely but the mere chance is enough to keep one going. Humans often get a kick out of torturing what is in front of them. Limit pushing. I know I’m not the only one who’s seen people doing dumb shit for the sake of it. Most seem to do it for attention while others seem to do it just to bend the statistics.

As a child, it was always my goal to make it to the Guinness World Records. I wanted to break a record! I figured, their so many records to choose from, I felt this would be an easy feat. Maybe I’d hop on a pogo stick for hours at a time (I was pretty good at it) Notwithstanding the many numbers of people trying to do the same thing and the amount of determination needed to make this happen, safe to say my desire quickly dwindled. I looked at the numbers and felt crushed by the likelihood and probability.

How probable is it that we’ll get our shit together before looking for revenge? When someone crosses us are we looking for justice just the same?

We ought to be careful how we look at data otherwise we’d arrive at various conclusions. We’re already at the age of a sort of ‘post-truth’ but the numbers stay the same if we know what we’re looking at.

So next time someone wants to read to you a stat about XYZ – remember anything can be tortured. Including numbers, ain’t that surprising tho is it? 😀

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