Stat-Heads and Integrity
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
The internet is strewn with information. It's my delight, and my dread.
Recently, when perusing one of Kate Harding's fabulous posts on Shakespeare's Sister, there was what I affectionately refer to as a "Stat Fling".
I'm a Stat-Head. I admit it. I can calculate a mean, median, mode, and range with the best of them. I worked for the guberment -- for ten years (don't get me started).
Basically, a commenter was citing some studies in order to reinforce their point.
So, being the dutiful commenter that I am (and it being my day off and all), I followed the link to the cited study and actually scrolled down to the research abstracts at the bottom of the article, and went from the abstracts to the full text of the study and determined who funded the study, and researched the funding entity, and, and, and . . . . (you can read it in the comments to that post).
The long and short of it is this: Statistics mean exactly SHITE.
I know this, because I used to generate a quarterly report so that the Reagan-Era Congress would not cut a wonderful program that helped low-income elderly people. I never lied. I never falsified anything, but you can be damn sure that I highlighted, in my abstract, the statistics that backed my point of view, knowing that the abstract was all that most decision-makers would ever see.
The grace and grotesquery of the information age is this:
I have, at my literal fingertips, a world of information--
And I can pervert that information it however I want, if I want to.
So it is, that my electronic experience has challenged my own integrity in ways that I never imagined.
The other day, I actually typed (yes, I did, I admit it) an insult about the size of some person's (I would say "guy", but that was an assumption, I now realize) pee-pee. As if I would care what size his/her pee-pee was -- even if I was his/her lover. As if that is in any way an adult or thoughtful or emotionally mature manner in which to communicate (and I do generally consider myself adult, and usually, thoughtful and emotionally mature-- although I did warn you about Teh Temper).
It's worse than that, though -- I wrote the insult in a way that was very oblique -- stated in such a way that , if the commenter had confronted me, I could have said "Well, I didn't actually say that you had a small pee-pee -- if you inferred it, then what does that say about you." How Ann Coulter of me.
It's been haunting me a bit. That is NOT who I want to be. It's just so tempting when I'm feeling pissed off and over it and all righteously wrathful and shit.
And there is the little, nasty voice inside me that says: "It's one comment in millions -- no one will notice."
I notice, though.
Those of you who read my entry from yesterday may note that I commented about "an unexpected turn of events" at home. It wasn't anything huge -- but it touches on what I'm speaking to today.
I'm fairly smart. I have a big vocabulary, and a memory that has a peculiar facility for assimilation of facts and figures. I was on the debate team. I can remember shit, and if we're in an argument, I can whup you up one side and down another with these combined skills/propensities.
I didn't actually have an argument last night. I just talked with a friend about an argument that I had in the past, and her perspectives on this argument. She pointed out to me (in her own rather oblique way) while my particular skill-set might enable me to "win" the argument, it might actually prevent me from connecting with the human at the opposite podium.
I hate that, but I think she's at least partially right.
The whole point of this post is that I want to lay down my "statistics stick" -- partially because it's a lame weapon anyway -- if my own logic and knowing can't support my position, why would I go running to some study that backs my opinion? Because the fact is, at this point, I can pretty much find a study that will support or oppose any particular opinion I want it to.
Sure, if someone parries and thrusts at me (or my friends) with a statistic that's lame, I will probably be tempted to "fight fire with fire". I may even give into that temptation. I adore research, and the internets, and a good argument. (No to mention the excuse to break out Teh Temper once in a while.)
Yet somehow, in my digital guts, I sense that it takes me away from the intention with which I float out to the great electronic ocean each day -- to connect with other beings, and through this, to connect with myself.
In parting I will just say this: I fucking love my computer.
Posted byPortlyDyke at 6:54 PM