___% of all statistics…

… are made up on the spot. A common myth that is deeply rooted in the truth that we really like to make up numbers when talking about things. I don’t think hardly anyone can say that they haven’t at some point or another described themselves as being 99% sure or quoted data in an approximate percent form just to prove a point about something. What is strange about all this is that as good as we can be about seeing through bad numbers when someone is describing them (though lets be real a trusted person throwing numbers at you can be particularly tricky), we have a really hard time seeing that data is bad or somewhat wrong when they are given in official looking studies or through visuals.

“We have a natural tendency to trust images more than text.” Randy Olsen brings this important fact to the table to give good reason as to why visuals can fool us so easily, but an entire extra layer when you dig deeper into looking at how you can fool people into believing data. The British Journal of Psychology did a study where they introduced an audience that was split into two groups to a fictional disease and gave them the same data for who got better and who did not, the only difference, one group was given data that a large amount of people tried the experimental remedy and the other was told very few used the remedy. The results of the study came out showing that those who were told that the majority used the remedy believed the remedy helped, while the other group saw through the remedy quite easily.

In a more humorous example this article describes how a journalist posed as a Ph. D and got people to help him do a study to “prove” that that chocolate helps with weight loss. This example is less of an illusion as the previous, but it is similar in that people trusted newspapers and magazines published data that chocolate did indeed cause people to lose weight.

False data is unfortunately all around us, and while I think many of us have become adept at seeing though some of it ultimately the human mind seems to doom us to falling for something every now and again. Likely the only true solution to the problem is to screen published data so that it is valid and reliable, but that cannot happen as it would lead to a whole slew of other problems.


Brain train(ing)

Are we robots? Are we some weird collective consciousness that is constantly trying to identify what it means to be human? I really don’t think so, though it is entirely possible that humans being robotic in nature might not really be that totally far off from reality. As quoted by Nicholas Carr, “The brain has the ability to reprogram itself on the fly, altering the way it functions.” Does this not sound robotic? Does it matter? I argue that it does not, it is just one of the wonderful parts of being human.

We can change our minds, and not only in regards to opinions but in regards to how we think about stuff. To me that is incredibly cool, it is a perfect example of human evolution through time. Where the problems really start are where they always started, which is that people are scared of change. As we have read people feared writing when it first began, and I’d reach to say people probably feared the wheel too. That is what we are currently going through as a race in regards to all this rapidly evolving and emerging technology.

An older Wall Street Journal article discuss several points that have been made for and against technology and how it affects writing and thinking, and the part that I love most about it is a short point towards the end, “Whatever the mix of good and bad, technology only advances and cannot be put back in the bottle.” I love this statement so much as it really embodies my two biggest thoughts regarding technological evolution and how it affects us. The first is that there is ultimately nothing we can do about the change as it is happening, so we might as well make the most out of it and learn and adapt and enjoy. The second is it that again, the change is here, and we need to try and adapt to it so that we can make it easier for generations to come to adapt.

Adapting to change is a fact of life, and it is something I believe we as a society could do better at bring to our young who really need this skill in order to grow up in a time where new discoveries are being made technologically nearly every day.