Thursday, May 8, 2014

Two more for the West Coast Stat Views lexicon: The Jar Jar Binks Paradox and Mathematical Anosognosia

The Jar Jar Binks Paradox

Improving the reputation of something bad by adding an additional element that's even worse. The effect works by focusing criticism on one point, making the other elements look better by comparison, and by creating a more favorable narrative (____ would have been good if not for ______).

You could argue that the fatalities-per-mile metric was the Jar Jar Binks of Freakonomics' shoddy analysis of the risks of walking drunk vs. driving drunk. Just to be clear, walking drunk is very dangerous. It might even be more dangerous that driving inebriated, but Levitt's analysis was a collection of comically oversimplified assumptions and numbers pulled out of the air. (See here, here and here for critiques). By addressing criticisms of the fatalities-per-mile metric, Levitt was able to create the impression that the rest of the work was solid.

Mathematical Anosognosia

A condition that causes the false impression of comprehension when a concept is accompanied with familiar mathematical symbols and methods. This is often accompanied with a heightened sense of self-confidence and diminished sense of judgement and restraint. Those prone to this condition are often observed making sweeping pronouncements in fields they have no relevant background in. Though almost anyone working in a math-based field can suffer from Mathematical Anosognosia, physicists and economists seem most susceptible, Extreme cases have been known to produce NYT best-sellers.

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