By Wayne William Cipriano
When I was in school, part of my training required several courses in statistics. (I was always the joker who asked, “Will there be any math?”) I used statistics quite a bit afterward.
Statistics can be a very useful way to look at large groups of individual values, sort of combining the information to get a better idea of what is going on. Statistics can also be very deceptive. (You have heard the old saw about there being lies, damned lies, and statistics, right?)
There are many different statistical methods, some more powerful than others, some more useful under certain circumstances or situations than others, and there are, of course, some that can present the data in ways that make them appear more favorable to the experimenter’s hypothesis, or the polltaker’s desired outcome.
But even someone who is aware of all these factors can still be affected by the presentation of data that are inconsistent with that person’s biases. I know because it happened to me just last week.
We have to be very careful when we evaluate information that relates to strongly held beliefs, opinions, and biases. And, we have to be even more sensitive to the predilection to (as I did last week) dismiss information that has a sound basis just because it interferes with what we (or I) believe.
It is called intelligence when we are presented with potential facts that argue against a strongly held view and we honestly examine those potential facts and give them a chance to change our minds.
It is called education when our minds are changed.