This example, The Art of Thinking Clearly, is something that I’ve been meaning to post a review for on the site for quite some time now, mostly because of how often I reference logical fallacies. Whatever else this book might be, and it certainly has its flaws, it is a short, approachable compendium of common logical fallacies.
In a few months, when my review for Bernoulli's Fallacy goes live, we'll have a lot more to talk about when it comes to uncertainty, probability, and statistics. In the meantime, I wanted to share an article with you from the journal Science Advances, entitled "Earning the Public's Trust."
I think science as a discipline could benefit from a more practical approach. This doesn’t so much refer to some of the really abstract and intangible research happening in fields like quantum physics as it does to something that I see more and more presented in lieu of actual experiments: computer models. In just the past few weeks, I’ve read everything from government reports, to news articles, to peer-reviewed scientific papers that leverage as their evidence not practical experiments or real datasets, but computer models and statistical simulations. There was even one that proudly proclaimed that it was based on interpolated data – in other words, data that is only inferred to exist between known data points.
We've talked a bit about statistics before. Sometimes, it seems that our modern society has a numbers fetish. Every argument seems to come down exclusively to data, decisions are made based on data, and the world turns on enormous quantities of data (I really should do a post on "Big Data" and its implications). All of that data is presented in the form of statistics, but statistics can be made to say almost anything.
These arguments look at the published statistics, showing that the virus is apparently under control in Eastern nations, and isn't in Western nations, and suggest that perhaps the supposedly example-setting Western democracies need to take a lesson from these Eastern countries. I have even seen some essays suggesting that the progress of the pandemic in the East and the West demonstrates that the time for Western-style democracy has passed. What is left unspoken in all of these arguments is that these discussions are assuming the primacy of utilitarian morality.
This is a website for stories. I make a concerted effort to keep it a writing website, and I work very hard to refrain from using it as a platform to talk about things that don't relate to writing, whether those topics are controversial or not. I avoid talking about current events, politics, or even my own "real" job, because I don't think that it's appropriate to use this platform for something other than what I built it to do: share stories. I don't write stories to have deep messages, hidden meanings, or social commentaries, although some people have taken such meanings from my tales. I write to entertain, to tell stories that I would myself enjoy reading, so I assume that is mainly why readers come here, too.
Humanity's fascination with numbers can be traced back to the Sumerians, and the ancient language, cuneiform. In some of the species' earliest cities, written communication was invented as a means of keeping track of numbers. Census data, to be specific, which was used to levy taxes on the populace. Aside from showing that both writing, and math, were developed in order to facilitate taxation, this is arguably the start of humanity's fascination with using numbers to explain the world around it. As we developed new mathematics and new techniques for recording information, the unique capabilities of statistics were leverages for wider ranging applications. Geometry, for instance, which oddly enough has the same root word as geography or geology, geo, which means earth, is called geometry because the Egyptians invented it to measure out parcels of land.