How a scientific method is slowly destroying human experience
It all started when I was young ― when I was in the “why is the sky blue?” stage of my development. My baby brain quickly zeroed in on a scientific method which I questioned then, and have since come to believe has little to no societal benefits.
A commercial for an overly fructose-infused cereal would come on during television hour, and I’d sit enthralled at the array of happy, smiling children my age. The voice-over would say something like, “80 percent of 8- to 12-year-olds prefer [insert cheesy cereal name here] to [insert competitor’s cheesy cereal name here].”
Well, I’d sit perplexed and wonder just how the voice-over man knew that. I even remember asking my mom once, “Mommy, how can that be true when nobody ever asked me?”
And so began my lifelong ardor against statistics, and every sad, sad generalization they create in life.
It is about personal experience; our opinions and beliefs are cultivated throughout our unique manners of maneuvering through life, pulling hints and suggestions from our nurture, our environment and the resources available. Statistics, then, dehumanize and suck the life out of what should be a colorful array of opinions, beliefs, practices and traditions.
Statistics minimize human experience to a few mere numbers, openly and admittedly ignoring any sense of the individual.
I understand the convenience of these numbers ― they are an easy solution, an easy explanation. We like categories. We like black and white. Statistics satisfy the masses, but that’s taking the easy way out.
Perhaps the most vexingly arbitrary aspect of it all is the practice of sampling ― as the attempt to statistically represent an entire population through a mere fraction of its mass. I understand the justification that generally speaking like-minded people live in the same places, etc.. But that’s precisely the term I’m attempting to debunk: general.
As you can imagine, first-year was particularly torturous for me, when I was forced to stare at the Stall Seat Journal each time I was in the much-coveted privacy to do my own business. The words “Did you know 15 percent of U.Va. students have three drinks or fewer when they go out?” stared me down.
First – false. Second, count on that miserably-designed 10”x 13” poster with its scrupulously chosen rhetoric to make me feel like member of a supposedly small fraction of the University community, ostensibly ignorant of and detrimental to my own health. With such an array of habits, of people, of upbringings suddenly all brought together to one school, there must be more to reality than an equation like that can explain. Maybe a box-and-whisker plot would be more fitting.
To give the field a little bit of credit, I was indeed impressed by statistics’ diligent efforts to be precise when I took STAT 2120 for (sort of) fun one summer. I needed another math and sciences College requirement fulfilled, and curiosity killed the cat. I could no longer justify hating a scientific method I really had no experience in academically crafting.
I found the course interesting ― like a puzzle, if you will ― but nevertheless couldn’t imagine dedicating my undergraduate studies, much less career, to something called “statistical analysis,” and further contributing to the greater manipulation of a whole society. It felt like trying to fit clouds into a confined box, like defining ideas by terms that restrain their potential.
Surrounded by future Stats and Econ majors, and pre-Commerce students trying to get ahead and eager to sell their souls to investment banks, I’ve never been more out of place in a class. Oh, second year.
My column will go unread by the masses, because I don’t offer a feasible solution. The very purpose of statistics is that they are convenient, easy and persuasive. Just pay attention to where they are used and have half a brain when considering them a logical part of any argument. Skepticism will always win the race. Slow and steady.