Saturday, April 11, 2009

A poor use of math

picofmonthaprilIf your experiment requires statistics, you should have designed a better experiment

Lord Kelvin 

We here in the US have a funny relationship with math.  It is not so much a discipline to be studied and understood, but rather a fetish to be waved about to prove a point.   At the governmental level, math is especially suspect.  The constant dinking around with the unemployment numbers to put a happy face on so the little folk won’t panic is especially repugnant.  But then again, the folks in power require the acquiescence of the proles to keep their power and perks.  It is in their best interests to doctor the data.

Medicine is also very funny.  We worship our white-coated doctors, but these guys play the funniest games with data.  They have to, their rather expensive lifestyles depend on the the slimmest of data.  Have you ever taken a pencil and paper and went over the warnings and results data of the those little pills you put into your body?  Interesting use of your time.  The gains from the “new and improved” are very marginal and the side-effects greater and greater with every improvement.

Or consider the data from the weather research dudes.  Graphs are totted out showing catastrophe, but when you go in and hash at the raw data by yourself, the results become much more difficult to assess.  Data is “derived” from secondary epiphenomenon.  Estimates are enshrined as hard data.  Strings of numbers from a mathematical model are preferred over hard data collection.  But funding comes from this current model, and woe betide a heretic.

Right now, I am going over the sunspot number data.  This is also strange, when they are needed by the models of the space scientists they are conjured up with the tiniest of pixel sludge.  Now that it looks like there may be funding in the idea of a minimum, what was called a sunspot a couple of months ago is now a “proto sunspot”.  Strange things. 

So our world is rapidly becoming an abstraction, with the data being massaged behind closed doors in order to present us with clues leading to where others wish us to be.  Maybe it is time for all of us to start looking at the raw data and thus looking at problems directly instead of through a lens provided by others.

1 comment:

Mayberry said...

The only numbers I trust anymore are the ones I come up with myself.... My numbers are not very encouraging.......