On a Beach Walk: No. 18

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I like walking the beach as it is good for the body, mind, and soul – and refreshing on my feet.

I recall my first exposure to statistics in college. To me, interesting stuff – but something that takes time to comprehend its usefulness. In those days (1974-75) classes emphasized was on calculations using complex formulas by hand in a world without calculators. One of pencil, paper, a slide rule, and the occasional abacus.

The professor made one particular statement that stuck with me (so I paraphrase) – “In the not-too-distant future, computers will do all the calculations and statistics classes will concentrate on their meaning.”

I believe those Texas Instrument calculators arrived in the late 70s-early 80s. I recall having high school students who were enthusiastically proud of having one of those calculators. I would channel my statistics professor by encouraging those students to keep their cherished calculators forever so they could show their kids an example of archaic.

As I look across the water, I see today’s world as a vast sea of data and statistics. So many numbers that are ripe for picking. As a colleague used to say in our discussions, “Take a stance – any stance – and then go get the numbers to support it because they are available.”

But today’s world is going beyond even that statement. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a data-driven tool designed to scrutinize and apply large amounts of data in order to establish trends that will lead to faster and better decisions.

AI gets the most out of data. Today we marvel at Alexia’s existence, but that is a simpler application than what AI is doing in health care, manufacturing, research, and throughout business.

Dr. Fyffe was the statistic professor who made that statement. I don’t know if he envisioned the coming of AI that day, but that’s where we’ve come and where society is going. Oh what will we see in our daily lives just 10 years from today?

Although I remain an optimist for a positive future, one can find many reasons to have a negative view of tomorrow. Time will deliver the answer – it always does because it always has – but for this place in time – today – walking the beach is good for the mind, body, and soul – and refreshing on my feet.

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On Graphs

Note: Although my examples uses politics, this post is not for or against any candidate, party, platform, interest group, or any position in that nature.

The following is one of the most profound points that stuck with me from the statistics classes I’ve taken. Because of the amount of statistics available, it is easy to take a position and then find the numbers to support the position.

Graphs are visual representations of data. No matter if they are bars, points, lines, pies, scatter, area, picture, etc … they show the relationship between variables – usually two. Because visual representations help make a point, the graph maker can make decisions to best illustrate their point for the audience.

Several months ago, President Obama’s campaign used a graph similar to this regarding job growth. In my opinion, this was an effective graph to use because it visual delivered the message the campaign team desired. (Note: The campaign also showed 2008 decline in numbers that the graph to the right does not show – and no, I did not break my own rule about a political statement.)

Just as the campaign rightly and accurately displayed those numbers, the campaign stopped showing the commercial when the most recent numbers changed the trend line.

Graphs only display limited information – and in most cases – the two variables that the graph maker decides to display. This also means there is more to the story; just as the graph from Money magazine shows – which is something I know I stated here sometime in the past, but I just don’t know when.

Bottom line: Tread lightly on numbers because (assuming they are correct), they show one aspect of reality – especially if the numbers are coming from any politician or political entity. Don’t take their numbers for granted, thus examine it yourself.