Lies, Damn Lies and…

One of my academic advisors used to say that any argument without numbers is a religious one. And we all know how productive they are.

Being a numbers jock and P-Chemist, that statement resonated with me. It still does.

But then I went into business, and for a while my job involved the quantitative prediction of consumer behavior. Entering into the social sciences like that, where there is no ideological bias, just a financial incentive to get the model right, was good for me. It trained me to look at the instrument that was used to derive the numbers. To ask if the questioner was asking the right questions.

So my brain perked up when I saw this article on the decline of newspapers:

Big whoop. After several statistical triple back-flips, we now know that 96 percent of newspaper reading is done in the printed product. That’s like talking about modern transportation by pointing out that 96 percent of buggy drivers use buggy whips. Hello? We switched to cars 100 years ago.

Writing on the Nieman Journalism Lab Web site, Martin Langveld made some valid statistical conclusions about newspaper readership. The problem is that he was asking the wrong questions. It isn’t about newspapers; it’s about news.

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Out of the Woodwork

My friend Janiece seems to attract the whackos. This time it is the alternative medicine crowd glomming on to an old post – what is it with these people? Neither they nor Wagner can stand having a piece of criticism out on the Net, even an old one. Do they spend all day vanity Googling? I had completely forgotten about Janiece’s post until the crazies showed up again months later.

One of the crazies showed up with “data” from the Gerson Institute, and being the truth seeker that she is, Janiece responded:

I’m not a doctor, but I do understand the scientific method, and this is not a clinical trial or a well constructed study. What I will concede is that the information was interesting enough to me as a layman that I think further study by qualified professionals wouldn’t be uncalled for.

Janiece is quite kind in her willingness to be open minded. This is not a character flaw*, because she also wanted to test the hypothesis provided – this is precisely what internalizing and living the scientific method as an heir of the Enlightenment and citizen of the modern world entails. But then, Janiece is my friend for many reasons, and this is one of them.

I do have a little bit of experience with clinical trial design, however, although (let me be very clear, here) I am not an MD. There are, however, methodological flaws in the study that negate even the glimmer of interest that Janiece detected – ones that do not require a statistician or an MD to find, though I will concede that the layman will need some specialized bits of information to parse the full impact on the claims made by the alt-med whackos.

There are so many red flags for quackery in that article it is hard to know where to begin.

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In Town

I’ll be in Chicago on Wednesday. I don’t entirely know what my schedule will be yet, but anyone interested in getting together for a few beers in the afternoon or evening please leave drop me a line at my gmail account: perestrelka91.

A Delayed Feedback Loop from 1982

Western Europe is currently a shining example of Normalization of Deviance.


This is why.

In his book Riding Rockets, Astronaut Mike Mullane explained that NASA ignored known risks with the Shuttle because the craft had flown without those risks manifesting themselves in an incident. It is a common feature of humanity. Someone tells you that riding motorcycles without a helmet is dangerous. But you do it once and get away with it. You do it twice. A thousand times. But on the thousand-and-first, someone cuts you off, and you spray your brains all over the landscape, realizing, in your last, painful instants on this Earth, exactly why doctors call people like you “rolling organ stockpiles”.

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If You Can’t Dazzle Them with Audacity…

David Foster’s post on the Blatherification of America, specifically based on this post over at Joanne Jacob’s site by guest blogger Diana Senechal, reminded me of my own problems with the American educational system.

I have a daughter in first grade. Although Blatherification is evident in her classroom, it is probably the least of my concerns. I’m a physical chemist by primary training, but I make my living with my MBA in Marketing, so this is not a Snowian Two Cultures disconnect. The No Child Gets Ahead errr… No Child Left Behind standards have had a pernicious effect on education, and nowhere is this more evident than in the phenomenon of curriculum reorganization.

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