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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Be Humble, Do the Numbers

A grave error often made is the assumption that people will understand our feelings and intuitions about a matter.  We assume that a strong conviction on our part passionately stated will be overwhelmingly persuasive.  We don’t want to go to the effort to do the numbers to validate (or invalidate) our feelings and intuitions.  Our belief that they are true should be sufficient, or so we believe.  We take offense that people don’t trust our judgment if they insist on evidence to back up our viewpoint.  It is unfortunate that there is a widespread belief that numbers don’t matter—that figures in any case can be bent and molded to support whatever side one is on.  Actually there are good figures that don’t lie.  But it takes humility to get off one’s high horse and to patiently do the drudge work that can be involved in research.  The two significant tasks of detail tracking and cogent numeric summarization are required.  Unless one supports their position with such hard evidence, it is quite valid that their strong conviction be dismissed as insufficient.  Of course, there can be the pleasant surprise that the math supports and strengthens one’s case; thus revealing that the initial reluctance to do the math may have been due in part to doubt regarding the real legitimacy of one’s position.

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