Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Fake News and Statistics Don't Make Your Denials Plausible

When I was in high school, we studied a little of statistics (for which I am grateful), and there was one girl in class, Lacey Bigford, who insisted that no one should "believe in" statistics.  I've been thinking about her a lot lately.  You look at the comments on any story with a poll and Trump-folks say that you can't believe any poll or any statistic.

I get that it's annoying to not see the nuts and bolts of how figures are put together, but when you don't want to go to college or learn more on your own, or "believe in" an entire field of mathematics, you're putting yourself at a disadvantage.  And then you're voting and screwing other people.

A few big fault lines in thinking between liberals and Republicans (conservative?  yeah right) are becoming obvious to me.  Many Republicans are claiming that protests against Trump and his policies are stocked with "paid protestors."  Which is crazy.  It took me a few weeks to figure out that they think organized political action is cheating.  And then when the Lacey Bigfords of the world hear about global warming (for example), they won't believe in it.

It's fine with me if you're not into climate science or a statistician, but stopping paying attention in school in 8th grade is no excuse to fuck up the work of the people who do care.

If Lacey read this, I'll bet she'd tell me that she's doing just fine without statistics.  Surprisingly, we're not close, so I have no idea how she's doing, but I'll be damned if a good understanding of statistics in the people around her never had an effect on her.

It's not a lot to ask that we trust that the obvious and provable is true, even if someone else put the case together.

It takes humility to study something (at least an admission of ignorance), or even connect with a stranger, and a huge number of Americans have apparently rejected the notion that there is anything they don't already know that's worth knowing.  Getting polio and seeing Florida sink into the sea are just going to be happy surprises along the way.