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Can statistics support irrational thinking?

  1. Mar 23, 2008 #1
    Here is the scenario. Picture three people standing at a playground watching the children play. The first is grouchy and sees all the busy activity as stressful noise. The second person is in a good mood and sees the child play as relaxing and fun. The third person is full of anxiety and sees the child's play as an accident waiting to happen. The data entering each person is exactly the same. But a subjective filter is affecting how they all view the same data. This filter sort of narrows data perception so it is inline with their subjectivity.

    Each of the three can set up a statistical study to support their subjectivity. The first can show how erratic behavior is stressful. The second can show how child's play can be bring out the inner child and be relaxing. While the last person can conduct a study to show the hazards of the playground. Statistics doesn't differentiate between rational or irrational premises but can support both. Does math have a cut-off line where statistical results are no longer considered rational? Or is just the procedure important, with any valid statistical study, scientific, if it follows by the book?

    The subjective scenario, since it is using a narrow data set filtered by subjectivity, needs to lead to the same subjectivity. This will allow other people can use that same filter so they can limit themselves to same data perception. For example, the anxious person is hoping to create the same level of anxiety, called awareness in others. This will give them the proper filter to narrow their vision of the data. One may not be able to do this rationally and objectively, but statistics can be quite useful since it is not appearing to judge, but can lead to the desired irrational affect.

    I am not dumping on all of statistics. I am concerned about there not being an awareness of the rational and irrational line for statistical applications. I would hate to think that some important theory is based on subjectivity made possible with the magic of statistics. Again, there is also the rational side of the line where statistics is a very important tool.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 23, 2008 #2
    There is a difference between the mathematical theory of statistics and the experiments in which statistics are used to support theories in the social sciences.

    It seems like you are saying that part of the problem with social sciences is that subjectivity can interfere with data perception, so even having statistically significant results is meaningless if the original data is tainted by subjectivity.

    The first paragraph of your post reminded me of existentialist writers like John Sartre. What do you propose is the objective way to view the children playing?
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