I was teaching to a college audience this morning when I was trying to educate on how statistics work, and what makes them credible. For somee reason, I couldn’t get the class to understand why not all statistics are credible. What got me stuck was that every student in the room was somehow taught that statistics are relevant as long as they are statistics. I guess watching some Youtube video taught these students that what makes something credible is that they have statistics backing up their conclusions.
Moving on from that, I came across an article that indicated that the last instance of spontaneous combustion occurred in 2010, and that incidents tend to occur every 14 years. Which brought me to the college student conclusion that the next incident is about to happen next year in 2024.
And this has me scared because statistically one in a total of over 6 billion people is going to spontaneously combust this year, and that person could end up being me. I mean, I know how statistics work (even if I can’t explain it to a group of freshmen students in college successfully), and even though I do, it still scares me. I mean, out of that 6 billion people, it has to happen to someone, right? Why not me? I mean, I’m not exactly exempt just because I paid my taxes on time. That ole’ spontaneous combustion monster is out to get me, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
Oh, sure, I could argue that tobacco related diseases is much worse (it’s going to kill 480,000 people this year, which is a much lower number than 1 that spontaneous combustion will kill), auto related deaths (42,915 give or take a self-imploding 1970’s Pinto), 686 mass shooting incidents (not per death but incidents that led to death; think about that one a second), 9 death by tortoise and 6 crushed by a cactus.
I mean, serious, who can’t see a tortoise coming at you in time to jump out of the way? Wait. A cactus. How does that even happen?
Sorry, I got distracted there.
Perhaps the point isn’t that people don’t understand statistics nor that they don’t believe them, but I suspect that we see so many numbers on a daily basis that none of them seem to have any meaning to us any more. I check the weather and suddenly a splattering of numbers appears that tells me the weather, humidity and some barometer thing…