The hurdle

With this entry I thee wed tie with 2011 for number of posts made in a year, and everything past this will be bonus content. Or something. It’s nonsense, really – I just vowed to try and do more posts, vaguely motivated by those who can apparently do seven a day (not looking in Jerry Coyne’s direction when I say this, no no.) But I’m comfortable with the current rate, and there really isn’t any point in trying to exceed this for the sake of numbers. As long as I don’t drop back to 2009’s stunning 30 posts*…

Anyway, in honor of this non-event, I provide a link to Headlines from a Mathematically Literate World, a post about interpreting statistics and figures in a critical, logical way. Simple, overriding rule, one of the few you can count on 99% of the time**: mainstream media articles are written to attract attention, and thus are overdramatic and, very often, completely wrong.

This is where critical thinking really comes in useful. If we accept the headlines and inferences at face value, assuming that they wouldn’t be featured unless they were important, well, we’d be complete suckers. And if we consider the dramatic tones and inflections from virtually every newscaster or commentator to be indicative of something, that would be even worse. Unfortunately, this happens all the time.

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen is with misunderstanding percentages. By venturing into the crawlspace under the house, I increase the risk of death by black widow bite as much as several hundred percent! Some people would take that to mean it’s virtually guaranteed, but it all depends on what the base rate was in the first place – in reality, I might have driven it as high as 0.5%, but that’s probably overstating it. I’m far more likely to die of infection fostered by gouging myself on something sharp down there, and that’s still not high enough to warrant any fear response.

Anyway, more pics coming soon.

* If you look at the Archives list at right, you’ll see 31 posts – that’s because I started the blog with a post on December 28, 2008, but the old software crashed and I restored in WordPress in 2009, so earlier posts got counted in June.

** Yes, that was intentional humor. Stay with me.

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