The Devil’s Advice: The Aeroplane Problem, Why statistics are only a starting point in research

Hello my beautiful (yet often misinformed) bitches,

I’m always open about my distaste for conspiracy nuts and the self-deceptions they enter into willingly out of emotional confusion. However, as much as I could write volumes about what awaits them in my house, it’s more constructive to discuss why statistics are only a good starting point in research.

To clarify, and because I have a part to play, I mean hell when I say my house, and by what I do, I mean punishment.

Take these two premises.

First, statistically speaking, flying is the safest way to travel.

Second, statistically speaking, aeroplane accidents have the highest percentage of casualties.

You can read flight safety stats here: https://injuryfacts.nsc.org/home-and-community/safety-topics/airplane-crashes/

Both these premises are true, and while they seem contradictory, they are not and don’t cancel each other out; in fact, the data justifying them come from different vantage points with vastly different factors affecting them.

Remember that correlation might imply causation, but it definitely does not prove it.

let’s make a pact

Your contribution helps me keep writing, and it might save your soul.

There are many reasons air travel is the safest mode of transportation; the number of aeroplanes in the air at any given time, for example, makes collisions much less likely than car crashes. The safety protocols that govern air travel, the use of advanced computer equipment, and the extensive training of flight-crews improve aeroplane safety and its statistics.

Now, the sad truth is that planes do fall out of the sky, and when they do, casualties are high.

I understand many of you would like to live in a world where that last statement doesn’t require an explanation; alas, God did not make all of you equal. The old man has a deplorably lousy sense of humour.

Here is a concrete scientific elaboration on that statement: When anything hits the ground from thirty-thousand feet in the air, it splatters.

The Devil Unbound: On statistics and misinformation
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

The point of this loose write-up isn’t to paint statistical analysis as useless because it is a powerful tool in scientific research. The idea is to make you see that facts require more evidence than isolated numbers to validate them.

It is silly, and I’d submit deserving of a throat punch – if not more severe torture – to quote one single statistic to make a point about anything.

The Devil Unbound: The Aeroplane problems, why statistics are meaningless without context

Even when the data is collected correctly, scientists must make inferences by applying complex tools and formulas that most of you not trained in data science can’t read, let alone understand. There is a critical field of study surrounding statistical inferences that demands complex mathematics and logic to work effectively.

Consider that many of the statistics you read or hear about on the internet (when the humans sharing them are honest) are from small population samples and do not represent exhaustive studies of the issue they present.

Consider this last point and the aeroplane numbers before saying that COVID-19 has less than a 1% mortality rate. Think about other factors that make such a statement problematic in a greater context, like its R-naught or reproductive rate. Contemplate the history of disease and viruses’ ability to mutate to kill us more efficiently.

I maintain that the best of you believe firmly that you are helping others by opposing science and medicine, but let me remind you that the road to my house is paved with good intentions.

Still, the worst of you think that you know more than the humans spending their lives investigating scientific stats or that you can make better inferences than data scientists.

But you don’t, and you can’t. It is that simple.

— Your friendly neighbourhood Devil


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5 Comments

  1. Well said.
    I wish people would stop acting as if they were born in a lab and have been researching their facts since they were in diapers.
    So much is nonsensical hearsay.
    And those who contradict facts and statistics need to recheck their brain neurons.
    Being well informed can be difficult when so many theories are simply for unlawful gains. Have to use the mind well. 🙂

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