Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Two Taylor Swifts and a Sliding Yardstick

I've come to realize that as of this month of December, I am currently exactly 2 Taylor Swifts in age. That's really not so bad when I think about it because when You Belong With Me hit the charts (in 2009), I was 2.25 Taylorswifts. So i guess it's getting better. I could continue, figure out when I'll be only 1.5 Taylorswifts, but it would start to sound like an old Abbott & Costello routine. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

I had the thought recently about sliding yardsticks (or sliding metrics). What if you're measuring something, and the unit that you're measuring against changes along the way. It would be a great way to obscure (or hide) data.

What brings this up, without getting political, are all the political postings I see on different social platforms by people who should be smart enough to know better. (Scary thought: they are smart enough, but they assume we're all dumb enough.)

You don't judge a book by its cover and you don't evaluate major chunks of the economy based on a graphic containing a pithy quote and carefully selected factoids(*) underlined with a "witty" applause line, wrapped up in 140 characters, meant to be repeated and reported by people using the phrase "Alls I knows is...".

(*) factoid - Not a "little fact", but something that "looks like a fact", but isn't. This could be extended to the presentation of facts in a way that they seem related but are really not.

If that's all you know, you need to be more educated. Look beyond the numbers. Check those that confirm your biases and those you dismiss out of hand as made-up lies (What other kind are there?). However, when the fact-checking doesn't happen, a low-information individual is created -- someone who doesn't know all the facts, who knows that they don't have all the facts, but believes that every fact and factoid that they do have is enough, and no other piece could possibly make a difference. Any other data is obviously wrong, and if not, needs to be ignored, you Fill-In-The-Blank-ist Bad-Noun!

Oddly, though no piece of information can sway them, they are shocked that their one piece of information hasn't yet swayed you.

What spurs this on?

Comparisons of budgets and deficits and debts and prices and any number than can (and did) fluctuate wildly, so that specific highs and lows can be picked out and averaged or compared or manipulated alongside the assignment of blame or credit, regardless of the merit of that assignment. Is the latest increase big or tiny? Is it bigger or tinier than that other guy's? And what percent increase in the load was the straw that broke the camel's back?

Are these things appropriate fodder for debate? Absolutely, as long as that debate is longer than a sentence and the rebuttal is more than "You're a butthead. Neener. Neener!"

Shouting down your opponent doesn't mean you've won the argument. It means you're rude and willing to stay ignorant of facts you don't have.

My entire class can ignore me when I say that 0! = 1. They can all insist that it should be 0, and maybe even argue why. but they'll be wrong in class and wrong on every test after.

As for me, I've given way too much thought to it. I'll be exactly 1.5 Taylorswifts old when (T + 25)/T = 1.5

Yes, I can calculate it. No, I don't want to. Unlike Costello, I know that she isn't going to catch me. The answer is that the ratio is getting smaller, but I'm still getting old.

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