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# The seven deadly sins of statistical misinterpretation, and how to avoid them

theconversation.com

Statistics is a useful tool for understanding the patterns in the world around us. But our intuition often lets us down when it comes to interpreting those patterns. In this series we look at some of the common mistakes we make and how to avoid them when thinking about statistics, probability and risk.

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### Assuming small differences are meaningful

Small, daily fluctuations are often just statistical noise. For instance, in the stock market or polls.

To avoid drawing faulty conclusions about the causes, request the "margin of er...

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### Assuming statistical = real-world significance

Generalizations about how two groups differ in some way often draw on stereotypes while ignoring the similarities.

Asking for the "effect size" can prevent this error. It is a measure of ho...

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### Not looking at extremes

A focus on a "normal distribution," - also known as a "bell curve," is where most people are near the average score, and only a small group is far above or below average. However, when you're deali...

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### Trusting coincidence

Just because two things change at the same time, or in similar ways, does not mean they are related.

Question the observed association. Are there many occurrences, or is this merely chanc...

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### Getting causation backward

When two things are related, one might be tempted to see a causal path. For instance, that mental health problems lead to unemployment. It is possible that it is reversed, such as un...

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### Forgetting to consider outside causes

We sometimes forget to consider "third factors," or outside causes, that could be the link between two things, because both are actually effects of the third factor.

Avoid this error by alwa...

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### Deceptive graphs

A graph maker may choose a small range of a larger graph to highlight a little difference or association and make it look more significant.

Take care to note the graph's labels along the axe...

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SIMILAR ARTICLES & IDEAS:

#### Metabolism

It refers to the thousands of chemical reactions that turn what we eat and drink into fuel in every cell of the body. These reactions change in response to our environments and behaviors, and in ways we have little control over.

Metabolism is not a single thing that can be calibrated with “metabolism boosters” like chili peppers or coffee, or by following special diets.

#### How The Body Uses Calories

• Basal metabolism is the energy our body needs to keep our cells working and accounts for 65-80% of most adults' caloric consumption.
• The thermic effect of food is the energy our body uses to process food and accounts for 10% of most adults' caloric consumption.
• Physical activity accounts for 10 - 30 % of most people’s caloric consumption .

#### Controlling Your Own Weight

Not everyone overeats and becomes overweight, and not everyone who becomes overweight or obese develops illnesses like diabetes or heart disease.

There was never a special diet, exercise regimen, or supplement that worked universally to control weight. Through trial and error, we have to discover habits and routines we can stick with that help us eat less and move more.

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#### Straw man arguments

A straw man argument is a misrepresentation of an opinion or viewpoint, designed to be as easy as possible to contradict.

The only purpose is for it to be easy to expose. It’s not an argument you happen to find inconvenient or challenging. It’s one that is logically flawed.

#### Hollow man arguments

This is a weak case (similar to the Straw man arguments) attributed to a non-existent group: Someone will fabricate a viewpoint that is easy to contradict, then claim it was made by a group they disagree with. Arguing against an opponent which doesn’t exist is a pretty easy way to win any debate.

People who use hollow man arguments will often use vague, non-specific language without explicitly giving any sources or stating who their opponent is.

#### Iron man argument

It is designed to be resistant to attacks by a defier.There arguments are difficult to avoid because they have a lot of overlap with legitimate debate techniques.

A person using an iron man argument will most likely make their own viewpoint so vague that nothing anyone says about it can weaken it. They’ll use jargon and imprecise terms. This means they can claim anyone who disagrees didn’t understand them, or they’ll rephrase their argument multiple times.

#### Information that matches our beliefs

We surround ourselves with it: We tend to like people who think like us; if we agree with someone's beliefs, we're more likely to be friends with them.

This makes sense, but it means that we subconsciously begin to ignore or dismiss anything that threatens our world views

#### The "swimmer's body illusion"

It's a thinking mistake and it occurs when we confuse selection factors with results.

Professional swimmers don't have perfect bodies because they train extensively. Rather, they are good swimmers because of their physiques.

#### The sunk cost fallacy

It plays on this tendency of ours to emphasize loss over gain.

The term sunk cost refers to any cost that has been paid already and cannot be recovered. The reason we can't ignore the cost, even though it's already been paid, is that we're wired to feel loss far more strongly than gain.