I have one of those upper respiratory things. I sat here yesterday after class, writing stuff and analyzing stuff and strategizing for people, happy as a couple of clams, and gradually found myself coughing, sneezing, sniffling, and generally being miserable. I went to bed early, and plan to rise above it today. And possibly to go buy some strong drugs to help me in the effort of rising above it.
Chanthaboune and I were turned down on our book proposal. This isn’t actually bad news. We don’t have time to do it, and we were finding the process a bit rocky, so it’s just as well. However, it hurt our feelings.
How unreasonable is that?
Fortunately, we were able to commiserate with each other. We did this via IM, saying oh well they hurt our feelings by failing to appreciate our essential awesomeness but we’ll get over it. And indeed I’m over it now.
I hope to get over my ailment just as quickly.
I need to finish reading The Agency and do my review before the 2:00 ceremonial hovering over the F5 key. Yes, it is Vine Day. It’s also paper grading day, and I still have lots of work to do, and if I’m able to rise above this false claim from Satan (I don’t actually know anything about the Church of Christ Scientist, but I’ve read that this is how they cope with ill health, and I prefer to think of all illnesses as false claims from Satan until proven otherwise) then it is also a possible makeup day on that walk with Janalisa.
So let’s talk about statistics.
This is sort of like yesterday in class, when the class poet allowed me to read the conclusion of his paper aloud. It was quite beautiful, consisting as it did of a long string of images: a widow, a rose, the preacher reading out the passage, “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me, and I will dwell in the House of the Lord forever.” It was also composed all of simple clauses divided by commas. I commented on the excellence of having a paper that ends satisfyingly without having to have a contrived conclusion, and on the beauty of the language, and on the dreamlike quality induced by the rhythm of the phrases — but also reminded the students that in prose it’s customary to break the paragraph up into sentences.
“I don’t know that we all really need to talk about commas again — ” I started.
“Oh, go on,” said a guy in the front row. “You know you want to.”
So I guess I’m also going to talk about numbers.
A client emailed me this morning to share feedback from someone else in his firm suggesting that we focus on the cost-cutting benefits of his new product instead of what we were doing. I felt that I had to point out that it wouldn’t necessarily be a cost-cutting measure for all his audience, and that shifting our focus in the way his colleague had suggested might make that sort of obvious.
I was perfectly willing to do it, though, I assured him. “Numbers are my friends,” I wrote, “and I can see ways to use them to make the point we want to make.”
I then paused. I had just sent this guy a report last night, stuffed with numbers, showing how my services had helped him.
Now, it is true that my services have helped this guy. The numbers are accurate, and a true reflection of the progress his website has made in the mere two weeks we’ve been working on it. I’ve only invoiced him for about five hours, so it’s a great return on investment, and something to celebrate.
But should I really point out to him just how friendly I am with numbers? He already knows that words are my friends, and has seen me spin things on his behalf. If I offer to pick and choose data to achieve whatever effect he wants to achieve, will that perhaps cause him to wonder whether the data I send to him is trustworthy?
I think that one of the reasons we ought to teach math and science properly in schools is so that people are able to go to raw data and interpret it for themselves, rather than relying on reports from other people. “Lies, damn lies, and statistics” being the three kinds of false information is only true if we can’t check up on the things we’re told. If we know enough about information and its uses to be able to evaluate reports, then we’re not at the mercy of the press or advertisers or… well … people like me.
I erased that sentence and rephrased it in a way that didn’t cast suspicion on all the data I ever provide. He has access to the raw data himself, and can check it if he cares to, and see exactly what I saw. But when it gets right down to it, it’s hard to offer to massage figures for someone and still sound trustworthy, isn’t it?
Something to contemplate.