Click on the image for the full cartoon.
This is an interesting case of how numbers get reported and what they mean. Often the numbers that get reported reflect a desire to grab people’s attentions or simply to tell the story the media outlet wants to tell. If you report 26% or 3% neither one is necessarily lying though the two numbers are referring to two different things. (Here is a link to an earlier post about how an Illinois tax increase was reported)
12% of respondents to a recent survey said they watched fewer NFL games and of those 26% said that the main reason was Colin Kaepernick’s protest during the national anthem. How should that get reported? And what impression gets left in people’s minds based on the wording?
Another way to think about it is this: 12% of the 26% who watched fewer games comes out to about 3% of the total number of people who watched football. Hmm. That leaves a very different impression than 26%.
Here is the original, misleading ESPN article whose headline has since changed I believe.
“National anthem protests were the top reason that NFL fans watched fewer games last season, according to a new survey released by J.D. Power.
“The pollster said it asked more than 9,200 people who attended either one football, basketball or hockey game whether they tuned into fewer games and why. Twenty-six percent of those who watched fewer games last season said that national anthem protests, some of which were led by Colin Kaepernick, were the reason.”
And here is a link to a Huffington Post article discussing the issue with how the numbers are reported:
“Researchers followed 30,000 women for 20 years and found that those who avoided the sunshine were twice as likely to die”
Despite the very sensational title, this is an interesting case to look it when understanding the nature and challenges of science. A simple look at the title might convince people that using sunblock or avoiding sunlight may be bad advice, however a more careful look at the study, its conclusions, and an understanding of the nature of scientific certainty should give us pause.
The study followed women in Sweden and, assuming the study was done properly, should only suggest conclusions dealing with a particular set of people: fair skinned women living in northern latitudes.
There may be a tendency to overextrapolate and think that all sunscreen is bad and all sunlight is good however that would be a premature and possibly detrimental conclusion.
Buried in the article linked below is an interesting sentence: “Women who sunbathed in the summer were also 10 per cent less likely to die from skin cancer although those who sunbathed abroad were twice as likely to die from melanoma.”
This study is not simply a study about sunlight vs. not sunlight but possibly about how much sunlight is appropriate.
Furthermore, the article states:
“The findings from Dr Lindqvist’s team are interesting, but it is possible that the women in the study who had high sun exposure differed from the women who had low sun exposure in ways that may explain their reduced cancer risk.”
Yinka Ebo, senior health information officer at Cancer Research UK, said striking a balance was important.
“The reasons behind higher death rates in women with lower sun exposure are still unexplained, as unhealthy lifestyle choices could have played a part,” she added.
This adds to the discussion of what it takes to prove something in the natural sciences and shows how challenging it is to build a scientific consensus. This just one study on a very specific group of people and still there are variables that are unknown.
“An influential psychological theory, borne out in hundreds of experiments, may have just been debunked. How can so many scientists have been so wrong?”
“And yet, it now appears that ego depletion could be completely bogus, that its foundation might be made of rotted-out materials. That means an entire field of study—and significant portions of certain scientists’ careers—could be resting on a false premise. If something this well-established could fall apart, then what’s next? That’s not just worrying. It’s terrifying.”
“Nosek recently lead a project in which 270 scientists sought to replicate 100 different studies in psychology, all published in 2008 — 97 of which claimed to have found significant results — and in the end, two-thirds failed to replicate. Clearly, some sort of course correction is in order.”
“When they’re used well, graphs can help us intuitively grasp complex data. But as visual software has enabled more usage of graphs throughout all media, it has also made them easier to use in a careless or dishonest way — and as it turns out, there are plenty of ways graphs can mislead and outright manipulate. Lea Gaslowitz shares some things to look out for.”
Writing history is an act of interpretation. Creating art about history further separates past events from the final.
What happens when an artwork tells a story that distorts an actual event? What if that “distorted” artwork communicates a historical “truth”?
Below is a famous image from a civil rights protest in Birmingham. The image tells a powerful story. It turns out that the actual events leading up to the image and the people involved tell a much different story than one we would infer simply by looking at the image.
There is a sculpture, based on the above image, that tells an even more dramatic story pictured below. What does it mean if the artwork, though powerful, does not accurately tell the actual story of the events it is depicting? What if it tells the truth of the brutality of the crackdown on the civil rights movement through inaccurately depicting an event? What does all this say about the power of artwork? The connection between history and art?
Below is a link to Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast that discusses these issues.