Leader's Mind

Falling for the beast of statistics

June 4th, 2021 · No Comments

The term statistics often evokes the feeling of anxiety and aversion in many of us. Yet those who found the courage to learn it, swear by its beauty and often call it art. Undoubtedly, understanding of statistics shapes our view of the world and a surprise often awaits in the detail. But like any art, statistics provide room for interpretation and challenge not only our thinking but also our intellectual humility. In today’s world of data influx, keeping our critical thinking in check pays off, reminding us that:

Nothing is 100% proven. Ambiguity is part of our lives and “only the fool is certain”.

Statistics provide findings “for” or “against” the hypothesis but not the decision. A decision remains with us.

Data tell a story but as with any story they are not inherently neutral or unbiased. They are subject to our ethical dimensions, priorities, and believes, and so are the ways we interpret them.

Do not trust the means, nor the percentages without the relevant context, and always question the pie charts.

Data show their value only in comparison. Keep your reports consistent.

Unless you are citing a “bible” data older than 2017 will most probably cost you a rewrite, in academia, business, or life.

A few days before the submission deadline of my research paper, I think that the appreciation of statistics is an acquired taste. Yet as long as we keep acknowledging that the key to good decision-making is not knowledge but rather understanding (Gladwell, 2019), statistics will remain beautiful and getting to know it worthwhile.

Jana

Industrial-Organizational Psychology scholar at Harvard University (in extension studies)

jana_valkovich@g.harvard.edu

Tags: Organizational Psychology

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