Saturday, 12 December 2015

Always place your common sense above all statistics

If you are planning to consult statistics before making a major decision, you'd better check your sources twice. Many proclaimed truths are solely based on opinion. Countless times, surveys do little more than elevate preferences to models of conduct that are to be followed out of convenience or for personal gain. 

Every morning, we should remind ourselves that serious errors have been committed in the past by placing blind trust in numbers produced by interested parties.

Your best protection

There is no future in repeating the faults of History. Our best protection against misguided statistics is not searching for alternative data, but using our common sense to interpret the conclusions presented to us. 

We should check if the recommendations match our experience and knowledge of the world. We should assess the consequences of the outcome of such surveys, ask ourselves uncomfortable questions, and take the necessary time to think things through.

When it comes to determining the direction of your life, never trust other people's calculations without subjecting them to rational examination. No matter what results from a survey, its conclusions can never be as reliable as your own perception of the world. No matter how sophisticated a mathematical model may be, it will never match the accuracy of your direct inspection of the facts. 


The following list presents six sensitive areas where you should be particularly attentive to check the logic of any recommendation that is presented to you.

Check the details twice

First, in general, you should not expect someone else to solve your problems. Statistics proving otherwise should be subject to close scrutiny, since they seem to contradict a fundamental aspect of human nature. We all love to help family and friends, but should we believe any survey that promises uncertain help from indeterminate strangers? Check the details twice before you act on such conclusions.

Second, human beings become most effective when they concentrate on work they love, or at least, on work that matches their best talents. Do not decide on your career solely on the basis of statistics. 

A survey might show you, for instance, what are the average salaries in different professions, but remember that, within each field, there are large differences of income due to individual expertise, ambition, and dedication. Take career statistics with a grain of salt and rather use your common sense to identify which professional path is suitable for you.

Realistic expectations


Third, in the same line of thought, try to acquire the mental fortitude to discard preposterous expectations. Never trust studies that provide evidence that you can make a quick fortune by entering a business field where you don't posses any knowledge or experience. 

That kind of statistics, even if based on real data, frequently portrays a window of opportunity that has already closed by the time you hear about it. Be prudent and don't go blindly for things that look too good to be true.

Fourth, statistics that prompt you to waste your resources or risk your health should be regarded with utmost scepticism. If someone proves to you with numbers that work and play are equally productive, you should not believe it. 


If a survey tells you that it doesn't matter whether you take care of your health or not, you should stick to your salutary habits and rational good choices. Such surveys make the headlines precisely because they are controversial and contradict basic common sense. The data might be true if applied to particular circumstances, but the conclusions make little sense as general advice.

A call for caution

Fifth, surveys that predict awful consequences from seemingly harmless activities should be assessed with caution. For instance, a study showing that people holding a certain type of job die young might reflect the statistical truth. 

Nevertheless, if you read its conclusions in full, you will realize that many individuals in that profession live substantially longer than the average. Ask yourself what are the factors that make those men and women reach an advanced age and seek to draw lessons that you can apply to your life.

Sixth, trial and error are part of the natural learning process in any field of activity. For this reason, you should question the scientific value of any survey that enthrones a specific method of doing things. 


A sensible approach

Are the conclusions based on local circumstances or do they have general application? Has the study been conducted with impartiality or do you have reasons to suspect the existence of conflict of interests? Whenever you face a recommendation to narrow your field of inquiry, compare the statistics to what you know from experience, and see if the conclusion makes sense.

The purpose of surveys is to extract lessons from reality, but without method and logic, data cannot teach us anything of value. Place your common sense above all statistics and your reason above all calculations. 

Trust your immediate perception more than a hundred volumes of allegedly scientific conclusions, since in life, you will have to pay for your own mistakes. Always check twice what seems to be lie beyond doubt and question what appears self-evident. Let your own independent judgement guide your life according to reason and reality.

Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com

Image by Martin Pettitt under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us



For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books

Rationality is the Way to Happiness

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