Would you cheat

So I found the last video of Dan Ariely that I put up to be very interesting. The science of choice is of course a marketer’s dream, and it made me look completely differently at the way things were placed in the grocery store, an interesting side effect of that little video.

Having found a second video from Dan Ariely, the next question is what would cause you to cheat. Are your ethics impermeable to peer pressure, to our instincts? Watch this video and think about how you might have seen this play out in your own life. Would you, could you be swayed by some of the examples that are laid out here? It’s interesting to postulate our answers.

Are we in control of our own actions?

I found this wonderful video that really speaks for itself. How much are we in control of our own actions? How much can we be manipulated by others who know what choices to provide to us? What can this mean for the way that we learn things? Our ability to control our own actions is not quite as clear cut as we would like to think.

Another look at the way statistics are gathered

And now for some good news, well not entirely, but a lot of it!  In the world of development, hope and statistics!

Now take a look at this YouTube video, what thoughts do you get after watching it?

Now go to this website and pick a few different sets of data and find one that has an interesting correlation.  Something which you might never have thought of before. You will need to click the ‘visualize’ icon so that the data is shown in the same way as in the video. Grab the link for your graph from the ‘share’ tab at the top of the graph and answer the following questions.

  1. Did you discover some data that seemed incomplete?
  2. What did you discover why do you think it’s interesting?
  3. Why do you think seeing data in this fashion is better than just looking at statistics (because that is, in fact, what they are based on)?

What did you base that claim on?

“There are lies, damn lies and statistics!”

Benjamin Disraeli, Prime Minister of Great Britain 1874-1880

People often make claims and support their ideas using statistics.  Statistics seem like such a safe and realiable way to do so.  As we say in our reading last class, not all studies can be considered equal, and it turns out, neither can the statistics on which they base their claims.  Today I would like to look at three different elements of statistics and the problems that surround their use.

  1. To start with let’s look some examples of statistical abuse, they are very heavily centred on the United States, but you will still understand them.  Why do you think the statistics are often shown in a manner that distorts them?
  2. What, in  your mind, do you think is a commonly misused statistic?  This web page asked that question and received a couple very interesting responses.  What do you think?
  3. Now let’s look at some of the common ways in which statistics are abused.  Can you think of any examples where you have seen this take place?
  4. Lastly I would like you to turn to a major newspaper, like the Toronto Globe and Mail, the New York Times, the Ottawa Citizen, the Manchester Guardian.  Or go to a News TV piece from any news source (CBC, NBC, CNN, etc.), watch it and listen to the statistics that are being used.  Can you find any examples where statistics are being used in a questionable fashion?  Comment on these below and think about why these statistics are shown this way.

An interesting look at … ‘Bad Science’

Ben Goldacre is one of the more thought provoking writers/bloggers that I’ve recently discovered.  To be sure it was because he was flogging his book, but having said that I have found what he has written in his posts for the Guardian newspaper in the UK and cross-posted on his blog to be interesting and eye-opening (and I’ve only read a few).

I challenge you to look into his blog and find a posting or two that interests you and then respond to it, either positively, negatively or however you feel after reading it using your blog.

This is his TEDTalk where he challenges all of us to critically appraise the information that often comes across our radar. He very importantly analyzes the different types of way that science information is presented to us. Challenge yourself to think of these problems when you are presented with information through popular media, social media, or in your classroom (especially from Social Studies teachers – they’re the dodgiest of all!)

While you certainly don’t have to watch another of his talks, there is one, and it has some more and very specific cases (some of which are the same) that where he challenges perceived wisdom.

Infallible – I think not!

One of the great discoveries of the last half century was that of DNA. It certainly opened up all sorts of avenues for investigating human (and other species) backgrounds and activities. One place where DNA has begun to play a very important role is in the field of criminal prosecution. It is fairly easy in any brief period to find news stories discussing how DNA was used to assist in prosecution as in this one where DNA is seen as the key to solving more crimes. Conversely you can also find stories like this one about how DNA might be used to assist in determining someone’s innocence. We often seem to accept DNA evidence without question.

But what if that shouldn’t be so. According to this article from the Economist it’s possible that in up to 25% of cases the way the evidence is collected, and importantly the way it’s presented to the humans who have to analyze it. This raises important questions about the way we interpret information. A couple of questions that I had after reading the article:

  • Do we trust the ‘science’ too much?
  • How important is the human element in determining science?


Hedgehogs and Foxes

We often base our knowledge and beliefs on the wisdom and knowledge of others. In our modern world there has been a proliferation  experts talking to us via TV and other mediums. Here’s something to think about the next time you are listening to someone talk on TV. Are expert opinions all they’re cracked up to be? Is there a danger in listening more to the foxes than the hedgehogs?