Data Manipulators

Posted at 8:09 AM | Comments (1)

I'm traveling and looking at the USA Today and being reminded of my most important math lesson.  A cognate of my doctoral program was research… a world of learning qualitative and quantitative research, T-tests, ANCOVA or the analysis of covariance, coefficient scores, reliability, validity, etc…. wonderful words to make you feel smart.  But I’ll never forget one of my professors starting class with this – “Your shoe size will determine how well you do in your doctoral program.  So look around and look at everyone’s shoe size and you will see who will succeed in this program.”  And of course we looked around at each other’s feet.   He went on with, “Study after study has shown that shoe size is a direct correlation to a measure of intelligence”.  The professor taught us that day about number manipulation and ended the class with this – “and by the way, babies have very small feet and don’t do well in doctoral programs or intellegence tests.”

So the most important thing I learned in my doctoral program is that most often NUMBERS LIE or to be fair, numbers tell a partial truth.  It is a snap shot… it is NOT THE story.   It is the exact same thing as taking a quote out of the context of the story.  So be weary of people who tell numbers as truth and without the story.

I can give soooooo many current examples for this.  But one most often seen in education is this one – a child’s success in school has a direct correlation with the family’s socioeconomic status.  This is true, but a partial truth.  And it is why people throw money at families, schools, and social problems.   But we also know through research that the greatest predictor of academic success is parental involvement.  And parental involvement in a child’s school can be greatly impacted by their socioeconomic status.  So the answer may not be more money, but how to involve working families or families without transportation or a phone into their child’s education.  There is more to the story than simply being socioeconomic status, but more about encouraging parental involvement.  The full picture and story is a must for truth and solutions in numbers!!!!

And you see this EVERYWHERE!!!  Particulary today in the USA Today.  Number propaganda...  Through political surveys, through budgets and ratios, on and on examples could be given.

And since I put people in boxes, I tend to see three types of people when it comes to numbers  – Number Manipulators (typically using numbers to force an agenda), Number Sheep (those who like the sound of numbers especially if they support their belief systems), and Number Interpreters (those who really want to understand the numbers).   Sadly, I’m seeing fewer and fewer interpreters…    So, whenever you see any kind of number, particularly numbers that are supporting a cause – please say “what?” – ask A LOT of questions!     And thank you, Dr. Caldwell, for teaching me this valuable lesson!