Statistics and truth

Does acupuncture medicine work or not?

Is verbal shadowing ( “subjects shown a face and asked to describe it were much less likely to recognize the face when shown it later than those who had simply looked at it”,) a fact or a fiction?

Not so fast! An interesting  piece in the  New Yorker   documents that the answer to these questions and more depends not only on how sound the statistical evidence is, but also on when you answer it and where (I am not kidding!)

If you live in China, Japan, or Taiwan,  statistical experiments show overwhelmingly that acupuncture works. Not so according to statistical studies in the U.S. , Canada, and the West in general.

Verbal shadowing was a well established fact in the 1990’s. Well, not anymore. Statistical experiments now show otherwise.

Scientific experiments rigorously following identical protocols showed significantly different results.  Well established results from 10 or 15  years ago, are not valid anymore.

Sometimes, it seems like even truth may have a change of heart.

We read about wonder diets, exercise machines, super food, and all sort of theories almost every day. They’re all purported to  have mythical properties. Look closer and you probably find they’re  all  based on shady statistical evidence at best. Even if they weren’t, it still doesn’t mean what they allege is factual or bogus.

Score one more point to the doctrine of doubt.

H. G. Wells, the famous novelist, predicted “statistical reasoning will one day be as important for efficient citizenship as the ability to read or write”. That day, it seems, has arrived with a vengeance.



Tags: , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: