Statistics is the science of collecting and analyzing large quantities of numerical data and inferring proportions of the whole from a representative sample.
If you or I are a member of the representative sample, how truly correct is our response based on knowledge, thought, facts, and precision? If the question is do you prefer red or blue, the validity of the response is solid assuming we understand the meaning of red and blue – are they colors or representations of something else? It also assumes we do not have a color recognition impairment. But what if our knowledge is faulty?
As an example, let me provide a correction to data presented in a previous column. In “Profit, Non-Profit, Not-For-Profit Part 3,” I wrote that the tuition at St. John’s College in Santa Fe was more than it really is. I received correspondence from the St John’s Vice President, Communications and Creative Strategy that the tuition is really $35K for out of state students and $25K for in state students, both prior to financial aid being awarded. These values are 20 percent plus less than what I wrote in my column and I stand corrected. But the error also raises the topics of data source validity and transparency.
Having made this mistake, I revisited owlguru.com to review the data. The website used the term “cost’” which I translated into tuition. In fact, cost should include fees, books, materials, transportation and, perhaps, room and board. Should entertainment be added?
Again thanks to the St. John’s VP for pointing me to an article on the discounting of tuition by private colleges and universities. Per the article at
https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2019/05/10/nacubo-report-shows-tuition-discounting-trend-continuing-unabated shopping for a college has become a lot like shopping for a car. You go to the car dealer, either in person or online, and find a make, model and sticker or manufacturer’s suggested retail price. Most likely you can get a discount depending on a lot of factors. A price is determined that may include delivery preparation, taxes, licensing, a loan origination fee, financing options and so forth. In working out the “deal” you have some control in your power to say yes or no. But taxes and licensing are determined by the masses, rates set by elected and appointed collective bodies and individuals supposedly representing the majority of the people.
In both college tuition and car buying as representative samples (statistics?), the organizations are constrained by internal and external rules, regulations, and laws that affect their abilities to make a profit, at least break even, or even grow.
As customers, complete transparency might be appreciated but probably incomprehensibly quickly. As an example, consider the American Health Care Act (Obamacare). The law contains 381,517 words. According to Google, the “average” person reads between 200m and 250 words per minute. Using 250 for calculations, it would take the “average” person 25.43 hours of continuous reading, paying attention, and comprehending to “understand” the document before voting.
The regulations for “Obamacare” consist of 11,588,500 words on 10,535 pages at 1,100 words per page. Can you imagine the type size needed to squeeze 1,100 words on an 8.5 by 11 inch piece of paper? And, 10535 pages equates to 21 reams of paper, 10.5 if printed on both sides.
In contrast to “Obamacare,” the U.S. Constitution with amendments has only 7,591 words. Using the 200 words per minute metric, the average citizen can read it in 38 minutes (37 minutes, 57.3 seconds if accuracy is important). This assumes the document is explicitly clear, not debatable, and easily understood and/or interpreted by all.
Challenge these calculations! They are based on statistics. Not necessarily to word counts but reading speeds. And implicit in the measurements is the selection of words. Are they “common” words or are they not so common or are the scarce?
Again per Google, the Oxford English Dictionary contains 171 thousand plus words in use but a mere 3,000 words are enough for 95 percent of common texts, or a mere 1.75 percent of all English words. Perhaps we need a law or laws limiting word choice in all legislation to the 3,000 approved words and other legislation requiring demonstration of knowledge of the 3,000 words before allowing voting. Obviously this is a foolish suggestion. Yet communication is central to choice making in a democracy. Perhaps this is why the United States is a republic.
This series of articles deals with choice making based on perceptions and preferences of the public. It deals with gathering statistical date for use by businesses and the government and even the polling or measuring organizations themselves.
Today we can argue that as individuals we suffer from a lack of transparency in dealing with organizations and decision making. We also suffer from an overload of data and facts to review in making decisions. Plus we rely on data collection, analysis and interpretation in making judgments. But the processes involved are inherently inaccurate – maybe. What are the sources of errors and what do they really mean – transparently?
Till next time…