Shift Gears

Dear J-

It occurs to me that we’re getting closer to a lot of deadlines: at the moment, I need to make sure that I’m not going to say something that could be construed as … well I’m not going to say a lie, but perhaps an overexaggeration. Okay, a lie. You can slant the numbers to all show what you want, or you can do some actual digging and get them to behave in a consistent manner. Which will it be? I’m learning more about presentation and exaggeration than before and it’s scary to think the same people who have no compunctions about misinterpreting the data are the same ones who have the power to be swayed by easy graphs and figures showing what we want them to know.

I suppose it’s because we’re all a little lazy at heart: we don’t want to do the research because research is hard. When you have the data that’s one thing, but getting to it isn’t the easiest thing either. Then you have to figure out a rational way to interpret the data, and what seems reasonable to one person might not to another: this is why we have peer journals, I suppose, and expert challenges. It’s something that I know I’m not comfortable with — the idea of wrestling with statistics and distributions and probabilities still gives me stomachaches — but it is a challenge, and I love rising to the occasion. This is why we get paid: we do the heavy lifting and from that you can get the sound bite of a few devastating sentences.

It’s a kind of aching cold outside this morning: not so cold you clench and tighten but cold enough to make you regret your lack of appropriate clothing. It’s how I feel now about re-interpreting the results from these data I’ve gathered: it’s a loss of face for me, for sure. No mistake. I’m okay with it if it means the results are better and not as misleading. There’s a lot of careful work and gentle digging that needs to happen before we can uncover the right items, though, and someone has to be willing to stop the train and get it on the right track. It’s more work, but what did I say about work earlier? You do the right thing because it’s right, and not because it’s easy.

Mike

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