Why dummies ONLY use statistics to make a point

March 8, 2010

If you really want to know where the world is heading then a good place to begin may be to look at stuff that statisticians usually dismiss as noise – this may sound like DIY economics, but I am dead serious  – I happen to be such a great fan of weirdonomics, I actually believe weird statistics sometimes work even better than the conventional approach – for one they provide a more timely snap shot of what’s really happening in the world than official numbers along with what we would usually term as market driven aggregates.

For example if I really want to know whether people are jittery about the US market – I don’t need to look the trading volume or for that matter refer to data that is generated by the EPFR, which tracks global money flows – sure, it tells me that in 2010, investors worldwide have pulled out USD$15 billion out of the US stock funds – but I could just as well get the same feel or texture of the prevailing sentiment by counting how many times people search for the word, “market down turn” – “recession” – “unemployment,” in Google or counting how many times those words appear in the Herald Tribune and WSJ – in either case, my point is resorting to unconventional methods to make sense of our world may actually hold out more prospects than resorting to a conventional methods.

Look I am not trying to say for one moment we should throw out everything that has to do with management by statistics – in fact, I am steeped in numbers, percentages and formula’s – I wouldn’t be able to do my work without these numerical tools – all I am saying is we need to be mindful whenever we talk about productivity in the context of statistics bc it can skewer the picture – it ain’t always a straight line calculation as much as a curve ball – because what usually follows in the wake of productivity is metrics – that’s basically the methodology by which we measure productivity. And metrics can get very sticky – for example measure the productivity of a glass manufacturing firm by the square footage produced and what you’re likely to get is thin walled glasses that require addition packing cost because they are simply too delicate to ship – do the reverse – measure by tonnage yield; then what happens is you’re probably end up with glass goblets that are so wieldy they might as well be sold as paper weights and door stoppers.

My point is people always have a way of getting around metrics and if you’re not careful instead of beaconing out the murk what you may probably end up with is a whole lot of rosy statistics that simply says fuck all about a whole lot of stuff – I call this the sensor tap syndrome – For instance, we all know shopping malls have been switching to sensor taps to conserve water and perhaps discouraging folk like me from washing my underwear & socks in public lavatories – but anyone who has ever had the misfortune of using one those electronic water faucet will testify that 9 out of 10 times – you probably spend so much time waving your hands underneath, around and above the faucet along with muttering abracadabra only to walk right out of the door totally exasperated: result – the firm may end saving water on paper; but it comes at a terrible cost to patrons who just simply want a hassle free shopping experience.

You could just a well juxtapose the sensor tap syndrome to any part of Singaporean life to reduce an sensible statistical argument to crud – the problem as I see it is simply this; once people are reduced to mere numbers; then what usually happens is not so different from the tragedy of the commons – since they all look like nuts and bolts; everyone becomes generic rather than individualistic – that’s fine if you out to design the optimum size of shit pots or figure out how wide a door should ideally be in a fire exit to prevent a two metric ton auntie from crushing you to death – but when it comes to stuff like health care, alleviating chronic poverty, housing, employment opportunities, care for the aged, sick and impaired – what’s really required isn’t statistics as much as humanity.

Darkness 2010 – The Brotherhood Press 2010

“Statistics can even tell you what’s your chances of living beyond 70 years if you dont smoke and drink like me. But it can’t tell you really simple things like how much of life you lived in those years. In fact, it can tell you very little about the human condition – It can’t tell you for example why a parent believes so much in a disabled child, that to them, he’s god given; it cant tell you why people choose to fight and even die for their country – it can tell you even less about your story, love & hate, war & peace………or for that matter anything about the human condition. Man Stastistics has got no soul……. It’s machine language. And less of a heart. It’s good calculating how big manhole covers should be or how many nuts do you need to hold up a bridge under X, Y and Z conditions – other than that, its good for nothing else – that’s why whenever I see a man spouting statistics – I just know he is full of shit; doesn’t matter who he is -could well be a man on TV, a bent pastor who thinks Jesus asked him to build another shopping mall or even someone who just wants to sell you something you dont need – they’re all full of invisibe and odorless shit – and that’s the deadliest type of shit, bc you can be neck deep in it and still not know that you are in shit.”

Darkness 2005 / captured by an auto-bot crawler in a secured thread in Ekunaba – Free Internet Library Board (FILB) – sponsored by the Interspacing Mercantile Guild – 2010.

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