Question: Statistics can be very helpful in providing a powerful interpretation of reality, but also can be used to distort our understanding. Discuss some of the ways in which statistics can be used or misused in different areas of knowledge, to assist or mislead us, and how we can determine whether to accept the statistical evidence that is presented to us. Krishna Shukla Grade 12 TOK essay Word count: From my vantage point, statistics refer to the manipulation of numbers to summarise, or simplify the perception of certain scenarios.
However, the thin line between objectivity and subjectivity when incorporating the use of statistics marks the fulcrum between accuracy and inaccuracy, and furthermore relates to the reliability of their application. Objectivity refers to the perception that results from observable situations regardless of personal interpretations while subjectivity gives room for such interpretations to be made with human intervention. Raw statistics are uninfluenced by the human intervention due to the fact that they solely incorporate the use of universally acclaimed numbers.
Obviously this is with respect to the fact that the ‘human’ nature that humans possess is cut out of the picture of the genesis of a statistic. That is to say that the two major assumptions for purity of raw statistics in colloquial terms is that statistics, in an instance are manifested by robots and the subjectivity of the scenario is limited to the choice of subject area in which the statistic is made. Since the former is generally not the case, it gives rise to the requirement that we need to initially critic the accuracy of a statistic and in turn determine whether or not to accept a particular statistic.
We need to develop a means by which to filter whether statistical evidence or data analysis through statistics can be tested for reliability. Overall statistics are not always reliable due to the human intervention and various methods of proof need to be used to determine their reliability. Numbers are one of the few things that people, regardless of ethnicity, cultural background or personal traits, agree upon. Basics operations like addition and its supplements are universal and this phenomenon has perpetuated into complex operators such as variance and standard deviation that are used in the calculation of statistics.
However, in statistics, the manipulation of numbers leaves room for human intervention. I believe statistics do more harm than tell the truth due to several uncontrollable and controllable factors such as; geography, reliability of data, etc. By scrutinizing these factors, one can determine whether or not to accept statistical evidence. Such evidence has the most prominent use in the Human sciences, particularly psychology, History and ironically even in mathematics.
In mathematics, although the operators are never wrong, human intervention can result into blurring of data. For example, this is seen when at times not all the variables are taken into account. A common advertisement cliche is,”90% of the women interviewed are satisfied with this weight loss supplement. ” This may obey the tally rules in mathematics but isn’t entirely correct as relevant variables such as the number of people or the geographical region and standards of living in the areas where this data was tallied may have been ignored.
One may argue that the statement in itself is not wrong at all as regardless of whether ten women or ten thousand women, irrespective of any other relevant variable, are interviewed, it may still make up 90% of women as 9 over 10 and 900 over 1000 both make up 90% of the total. However, I claim that this is wrong because it tells only the partial truth. Partial truth is best understood with the “Piss Christ” the piece of art was initially applauded but when people realized the golden fluid inside it was actually urine, grotesque was expressed.
Scrutinize this statement,”95% of the women interviewed despised this jewellery product. ” It may be true that only one of ten liked it, but knowing the fact that the interview was carried out in a poor area would change ones perception entirely. Hence the partial truth. The ability of language to elude the whole truth is significant in this scenario as simple diction like those ,”interviewed” could mean that out of a bunch of a thousand people by luck ten were interviewed and all the ten liked it, so regardless of whether or not everyone else hated it, 100% of those interviewed still liked it according to the statistic.
The self-explanatory role of language and intention is prominent in such cases and also in its power to emphasise or elude one from the truth. Hence in mathematics, when evaluating the reliability of statistics, pay close attention to the language used and evaluate the interest of the source before choosing whether or not to accept it. In the case of human sciences, psychology is exploited in order to sell statistics for the maker’s gain.