In one of the jitts for our statistical communication class we asked, “What was the worst statistical communication experience you’ve ever had?” And here were the responses (which I’m sharing with permission from the students):
Not sure if this counts, but I used to work with a public health researcher who published a journal article impugning a major pharmaceutical company. The data on which she based her argument was incorrect! When this mistake came out, readers were upset, and the article was widely read and emailed because it was being criticized. It was ultimately one of the ten most-emailed articles that appeared in the journal that year, and she bragged about this distinction, not recognizing that it was actually a bad thing.
Me trying to present the findings of a study I did on a company’s website usage and their customers’s behavior. I had no idea on how to present the correlations I found and clearly display my causation hypotheses, or how to translate them into actionable insights.
I used an event on the news to explain bayes theorum and conditional probability to my friends. One of them stopped listening when I started to write mathematical symbols on paper.
Trying to explain to the New York City Council Speaker why a regression line is a “good fit” even though none of the data points actually fall on that line.
With the little experience that I do have, I would have to say interpreting a speck phone case advertisement was the worst statistical communication I have had. It was a simple venn diagram with three circles. The three categories were “people who workout”, “people who don’t”, and “people who would if it weren’t all hard and stuff”. In the middle where all the circles intersected there was the speck logo. First thought, these are all disjoint. However, reading more into it “people who would if it weren’t all hard and stuff” is basically another way of saying people who don’t workout. But “people who workout” is still disjoint from “people who don’t” because they have nothing in common. So there wouldn’t be anyone in the middle where all the circle intersected. To me the speck symbol in the center is then implying that the people in that section would have a speck case, but there is no one so no one has a speck case. This would just be poor advertising. Another person suggested that what everyone has in common is that they all have a speck case. So if you do or don’t workout, you still have a speck case. So everyone would then be in the middle and everyone would have a speck case. To this, another person said bluntly, you’re wrong. No where on the ad does it talk about these “people” having a speck case, so I thing the ad has flaws. This isn’t a very serious occasion, but this conversation occurred several times with the same group of people and we are split on what the ad is suppose to mean. If you want to the see the advertisement I can show you and then I can have your input on it!
During my internship in marketing company this summer, when I extracted bunch of data from SQL Server and copied part of the output to present to my supervisor, I didn’t explain what means by each column and didn’t give him which table I used. So he was very confused about my result and just told me the result he want it to be. However, from my side, the result he want is exactly what i represent to him. So I thought he gave me a harsh time. Then I went to his office, explaining what i did regarding the data I got. He got what I mean and make me think it is because I didn’t make my result understandable. It is the worst statistical communication.
Trying to explain what a density is in an interview for a tutoring job when I was fresh out of highschool. I totally knew what it was, but that didn’t seem to have any impact whatsoever on my ability to explain it.
I sat in many meetings at the UN where data was presented by chairs of a committee and no one in the room had a math background that could explain it clearly. The worst time was when we were looking at military expenditures over time. Every country documented theirs differently and there were about 5 languages being translated to English. I wasn’t able to speak up since I was just taking notes on the meeting but greatly looking forward to this class to help me learn how to communicate everything I understand about statistics!
Talking about my research during my internship last summer. I had an hour-long talk and my talk required substantial background that most of the audience did not have. Instead of simplifying my content, I decided to try to teach some of the background during the talk instead, but did not do that particularly effectively.
My worst statistical communication experience happened when I did the GARCH model to analyze the volatility of S&P prices during last fifteen years. Since I had to deal with the data first before I input the data in your model. I spent a lot of time standardizing the data and bridging different returns to make sure the comparison accurately. It was a huge project to complete the project.
I have not had very many, but most recently, a conversation with a friend who works in data science. She was working with data for the purpose of bringing attention to the lack of New York govt funding to poorer school districts. I criticized how she was analyzing the data, and she explained to me that whether or not the data represent the truth, her job is to take pieces of data to bring attention to subjects in need. I unfortunately saw how data can be used as a weapon.
Arguing with my suddenly vegan father about whether the “China Study” proves that vegan diets are the healthiest possible option.
What was your worst statistical communication experience?