SensationalismApril 7, 2011
Katherine and I recently got into a big discussion with our friend Peter, who makes low cost, super-efficient wood stoves for use in the developing world (check out Burn Labs for more). We were trying to convince him that our long term goal of creating a world where mathematical literacy and critical thinking were the norm both in and out of school, where people on TV and radio wouldn’t have to apologize if they mentioned something mathematical, and where people could skeptically and thoughtfully analyze data and understand how math models the world, is just as valuable a goal as improving fuel use efficiency in the third world.
Can you imagine what the world would look like if people actually consulted and understood data before they made policy decisions? If politicians were called out on their numbers and the public respected the data? I still remember the firestorm after the Iraq body count numbers came out. What was most troubling from a thoughtfulness perspective (passing over the moment the actual results of the study) was that the Lancet study was about as well constructed as a study could be under the circumstances… but received a shellacking of criticism that was totally devoid of scientific or statistical merit.
Alas, the public–and the press–avoid the deeper story that data and math has to tell in favor of sensationalism. Two cartoonists had great sendups of the state of affairs. They’re below (the comics, not the cartoonists). I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.
I have to say, that minecraft line is probably my favorite moment in the comic. And number 2!