Sunday, May 18, 2014

Pet Peeves:Deceptive Statistics,  Dependence on Data, Failed Strawmen, and Titled Windmills
·         There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.
Often attributed to Mark Twain (1835-1910).

My peeve is the statistic that 8 million signed up for ObamaCare, therefore the healthcare lot of the other 307 million Americans has to be getting better. There is not statistical evidence that this is true – premiums and deductibles are higher, the number of uninsured remains about the same,  and access and choice have narrowed with people losing their doctors, hospitals, and health plans.

·         “Numbers are everywhere, aided by apps, websites and devices that keep track of heart rates, weigh, sleep patterns, and of course,  how many friends you have.” 

       Bruce Feiler, “Statisticians 10, Poets 0,”  New York Times, May 18, 2014. 

My peeve is that obsession with and dependence on numbers , on the quantitative rather than the qualitative, is a seductive trap.  Numbers tell you nothing about human relationships, e.g. whether data on physician performance separates good doctors from bad doctors, whether satisfaction among patients and physicians has risen, and whether perception about quality has risen.

·         “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not ever what counts can be counted.”    

        Albert Einstein(1879-1955).

My peeve is that it is not necessarily what can be measured that counts,  it is what humankind treasures and that reality is often messy and immeasurable. Management science, of course, says if you cannot measure it,  you cannot improve it.   This may be true to a limited extent, but data is never the whole picture, no matter who many digital records you have.  Data can never tell a story.  Spread sheets and metric cannot never replace, only supplement, words.

·         A strawman argument is a  self-righteous but false political  argument based on what you imagined some political adversary  said or thought but may never have said or thought.  

My peeve is that  the U.S.  is somehow conducting a war on women,  has  no sense of compassion,  and that America is  a racist society,  yet a woman stands a good chance of being elected President,   we spend more on health care than any other nation,   we twice elected a black president, a U.S. black women is one of the richest women on earth.

·         Windmills are at work in our politics, an illusion to the incident in Don Quixote, in which Cervantes knight mistakes windmills for giants and attacks them.
       My peeve is that our government keeps  attacking climate change and global warming as the giants causing our troubles.  Government is saying this warming with its attendant weather changes is something it can do something about through legislation when in fact it is beyond government’s control,  and is a convenient way of distracting from its domestic and foreign woes which it has a much better prospects for changing. 
      Tweet:  Manipulation of statistics,  dependence on data,  strawman arguments, and tilting at windmills are convenient but ineffective ways of distorting human and political realities.

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