See Cail Nail it: Let’s celebrate α and the gang

CailCoreshev, in a coment at Alpha Game, says:

Sometimes I think many of our problems today are due to most people having a complete lack of understanding of statistics and probabilities.  Not an inability to calculate them; that does take some study.  But the inability to grasp what they mean at all; to understand that “group X tends to show feature Y more than group Z” doesn’t mean X=Y or Z!=Y or X>Z or anything else except what it actually says.

He is, of course, 100% correct. Beyond them not being able to grasp simple statistical concepts even qualitatively, they eschew conversational use of statistical ideas by foisting value judgements on certain, not all, uses of them. It is a stain on one’s character to generalize, even if they just finished reading a peer reviewed study about the subject. People somehow do not grasp the difference between statistics derived from counting things that are unequivocal, and counting responses to an opinion survey. They will universally reject counted things, while they will grab every opinion survey they like and hammer us with it.

Women are worse in this regard than men. But men, we are rapidly slidding into the blissful ignorance that would say, “you can’t generalize, all people are different”. This is especially frustrating to those of us who are nerds and know how to understand statistical communication as well as to calculate and manipulate (I invite uninformed attack with this term) numbers.

I recall freshman year in college (barely). In sociology class we were taught that stereotyping is bad, while generalizing is OK. That was 1980. What happened between now and then? Doesn’t everyone take a 101 Sociology class? When did they stop eplaining the difference between stereotyping and generalizing?

It is beyond a lack of understanding. it is a visceral rejection of statistics akin to fingers in ear yelling lalalalalalalala when confronted with a fact people dislike because it makes them feel bad. Politicians and their speech writers know that people are clueless. The ignorance is a tool. Infomation such as presented in my prior post absolutely depends on not just pedestrians inability to grasp it, but on the laziness of those who perhaps could get it but are too put out by the idea of not falling in line with conventional wisdom.

Conventional wisdom IS the new statistic of preference. It started with “they say” as proof text from any claim. Today its “everyone knows”.

Everyone knows men are abusive, men cheat, men use porn, men are responsible for divorces, men abandon their kids, men run rough shod over women using scripture. Everyone knows X is unhealthy and Y is preferred, ABC parenting is superior to XYZ parenting, conservatives are closed minded biggots, women are oppressed, so forth.

Besides “everyone knows” we have solipsism and we have anecdote. Cails example “X tends to show feature Y more than group Z” is met with “my X (sister) and X (neighbor) have never shown feature Y, therefore group X absolutely does not show Y more than group Z. Some of this stuff was taught in elementary school when we learned about the unions and intersections of sets! No six sigma black belt need explain that in a bag with ten billiard balls, seven white, three black, one is more likely to pull out a white one randomly. But if that was men and women, or white people and black people, and “oulling one out of the bag” was some social pathology, you could stack divorce records or arrest records for 100 years to the moon and back, counted and sorted, and with furrowed braw and pure empathy inflection someone will tell you, nope, depends on the individual balls in the bag whether or not there is a 70% chance you’d pull out a white one.

Cails assertion that this is the source of many of our problems is, if anything, understated. It is at or near the root of most of our problems.

The population is as statistically literate as Ron Burgandy (him again) when he says “80% of the time that works every time” (or something like that).

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11 thoughts on “See Cail Nail it: Let’s celebrate α and the gang

  1. Ordering it on Kindle App and the one recommended to read first. Though I read the Rand books in college (and openly carried them around like some sort of badge of my intellect like an idiot) , and thumbed them since, I have not read his books. I

    n one review the reviewer writes that men are turining to fundamentalist religion instead of reason, eh……if only, though I suppose if that turn is shrouded in the type of ignorance he seems to be on about……maybe.

    Its weird but reading things like that is like standing by watching a mob from a safe distance isnt it. I feel like that when I venture too far outside the few dozen blogs where I know that, even in the extreme, I will find reason(able) in the mode of thinking. I followed a couple of links earlier to some blogs where there were hundreds of comments after each post, made by the masses. Its a sense of futility that sets in when you realize you have not a prayer of connecting with “most folks”, short of a providential act of God. This is not some expression of arrogance at all. I’m sure you agree, from backgrounds that include illiterate, 8th grade educations, grandmothers who have never left the home county, wisdom and understanding are in every group to some degree. Maybe they are protected from the poseurs.

    If you mentioned this on some bigger blogs (not an indictment of the hosts) a world of rebukes would come down on you for entertaining such commoner ideas.

  2. I fit in less and less anyway. I’ve stopped trying. If God wants to use a hermit He can. The way I think is practically alien to most other Westerners. I keep up a reasonable facade but it strains me. I had this in my backpack and pulled it out with some other books and had someone comment on it. I told them “books like that will get you in trouble”.

  3. I know what you mean by the strain. I find that as I consider the writing i want to do about the Epistle to the Ephesians and so on that on the one hand you have the egalitarian marriage advocates with their very emotional reaction to traditional scripture and on the other complementarians who often are really just doing the same thing from the flip side, and it’s tiring to think of. However we must not grow weary of doing good. We must remember that throughout history people have been foolish, have swayed with the tides of opinion and done stupid things. We must remember our own times of being deceived and foolish and recognize that pursuing wisdom is valuable in particular to those who are trying to struggle their way out of foolishness and may see what nuggets of wisdom we have like a lamp in the dark.

  4. Yeah, I know Sojourner. We need to be savory salt but I’ve had a taste lately of how God goes about accomplishing that. I’d rather be a freak than go with the flow, lately it doesn’t even seem like I have a choice. In the end I think we’ll count that as His grace and mercy. I often wonder these days if this is what some of the martyrs must have gone through as they realized that God was pulling them in an unpopular direction.

  5. Not comparing myself to Stephen, but can you imagine the changes that the ministry of Jesus must have made in his life and his theology for a common man to stand and say:

    Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.
    (Act 7:51-53)

    To the elites of his society, the ones that he was well aware had killed Jesus? A peasant spitting in the eye’s of plutocrats?

  6. Apropos of the statistical problem: there bears some relation to Stephen’s testimony in that he essentially described what had happened. He proposed that the conclusions that the Sanhedrin were drawing were incorrect. This is one of the fundamental notions of human freedom–the right to say to the powers that be “You could be wrong.” The Bible even records this about people addressing God (Abraham, Sarai, Gideon, Job, Elijah all come to mind).

    It is no new thing that powers that be should say “No, two plus two is what we decide it is”. Because it must be understood–it is not enough to say ‘generally” or “have a tendency towards” or “are inclined to be” with the understanding that as human beings we may yet make the choices we desire. It must be understood that ideological beliefs declare IS, ARE, WERE, and WILL BE.

  7. I see one thing as a root behind much of the muddled thinking: fear.

    The ones who push their agendas are not motivated by truth, but fear that their agenda will be subverted.

    During the late 80s, I published a small evangelistic magazine of sorts and I constantly scoured the local free newspapers for items of interest to comment on. I recall the local homosexual free paper had a raging debate around some recent scientific research toward discovering a “gay gene.” Some in the community were all for finding a root genetic cause (“See, we really are born this way”), but many were against pinning any such thing down (“They’ll classify us as genetically defective”).

    The thing that stood out to me is that neither side was interested in truth for truth’s sake. It was only useful in driving their agenda. I see the same thing here – it’s commitment to an agenda and fear of the agenda being derailed that is in play. That’s why they can’t deal with statistics directly and must bring up the MOTIVES of the one who brings the facts forward. If you can discredit the messenger, you discredit the message.

    Saw this in my news feed today:

    “Denunciations and condemnations for “homophobia,” “racism,” and other imagined offenses have worn out their target audiences. However, those slinging them have become habituated to them because of their previous efficacy. The tribes that wield those epithets — used quite as often to keep their own “members” on the plantation as for any other reason — haven’t yet grasped that their blades have been blunted by overuse.”

    We’re becoming less afraid. I know I am. But they are very afraid. And they are getting desperate.

  8. FYI: Sociology today doesn’t teach anything about stereotyping vs. generalizations. They preach egalitarianism—that anyone lower than you is really better than you; and anybody above you is an evil oppressor who needs to be overthrown and his property expropriated.

    BTW, Obama was a Sociology major.

  9. “I often wonder these days if this is what some of the martyrs must have gone through as they realized that God was pulling them in an unpopular direction.” Jesus was/is the ultimate martyr. I always try to look to Him. God pulled Him in all sorts of unpopular directions.

  10. Yes. The main problem with most social studies is the experimental design, especially the controls, or rather the lack of proper controls. But in some circumstances that is understandable due to ethical or funding considerations. However, what is unacceptable is the bad analysis. I might keel over if a purveyor of social statistics would compute an Honestly Significant Difference for once.

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