Think Like a Scientist: Overcoming y axes deceptions

I have been through a lot of schooling. Some of it was a complete waste of time and utter nonsense. Some of it was useful. Thankfully, I am intellectually generous enough to share the highlights of my education so you all can be PhD-level thinkers without all the poverty-level stipends, rat bites, and bi-monthly existential crises.

I decided to write a series of short posts covering some of the most generally useful tools I learned to see through the b.s. when marketing companies, pop-science articles, politicians, and other ruffians present data in order to convince you of something.

This episode of Think Like a Scientist, let’s talk about y axes.

Okay, let’s set the scene. I’m the writer of Galloblog. I want you to read more Galloblog. In order to convince you, I throw this figure in your face –

galloblogfigure

Yowza! Pretty convincing, amiright?! Look how far apart those bars are! Reading Galloblog is equivalent to playing with puppies while eating peanut butter and listening to Tim Keller sermons!!

Or.. is it?!
galloblogfigure_yaxeshighlight.png
Let me give you a few things to consider when you look at that figure.

Note the y axes (in red) is zoomed in to show 0.7 to 0.8. The more zoomed in, the more dramatic any differences between bars will look.  Look at the figure below — far less impressive. Glancing at this figure, you may conclude that there are no differences at all, yes? But look! It’s the exact same data.

galloblogfigure2Now, “zooming” in on the differences between groups isn’t always a shady scientific practice, but when evaluating the quality / importance of the data presented it’s important to have an understanding of what the possible range of scores actually is.

Ooo! I threw this in at the last minute for free! Something that drives me *insane* that I have seen far too many times in peer-reviewed scientific articles is showing two figures side by side – as a way to say “the difference between these two groups in this condition  (in this example, reading Galloblog) is real and we want you to be impressed by this, but we don’t want you to be impressed by the difference between these two groups in this other condition (in this example, reading Matt Walsh’s blog)” – but with different y axes!

galloblogfiguremattwalshfigure

If you just glanced at the figures above, you would think – “Yowza! Galloblog readers are so much happier than Matt Walsh blog readers!”

galloblogfigure2mattwalshfigure3

But if you made the Matt Walsh blog y axis scale the same “zoom” as the y axis in the Galloblog figure, they look pretty similar. The only real difference here is in the overall happiness level of Galloblog and Matt Walsh blog readers – not the effect of reading the blog. Surprise, surprise! 😉

Finally, let’s talk very briefly about the label of the y axis. The y label is “Happiness Factor (AU).” What is a “happiness factor” – is it a legit scale that many other researchers have used to evaluate happiness, or did Galloblog researchers pull it out of their bootays?

AU usually means arbitrary units, which means this scale isn’t linked to an observable measurement per se (e.g. “number of times smiled”) but is a relative scale. This doesn’t mean it’s not worth noting, but it does mean you should be asking “what is this happiness relative to?”

Okay — that is all the lecturing either of us could handle for right now. Stay tuned for more opportunities to become a sophisticated critic of all data!

xoxoxo,

cgallo, PhD

— EDITORIAL NOTES —

No Galloblog readers were harmed in the writing of this article. 

The disturbing truth about Galloblog’s readers

MOST OF THEM ARE MALE CHAUVINIST WEIRDOS!

.. This excludes my fb fam, of course … !

So I wrote this post a while back that was fairly straight-forward – I simply took a classic example of an article written for women that teemed with sickening fawning over the female sex and derision toward the male sex. Then, I changed the pronouns so that my lady readers would “woke” and realize that the way we talk about ourselves – especially in relation to men – is often very offensive.

Anyway – it’s one of my only posts that could be considered an “evergreen.” That is – I actually still consistently get daily hits from rando interwebbers on this blog post, even though it died a quick death in fb world.

Today I was looking over the search terms that people use to find my blog, and the overwhelming majority of them are “unknown search terms.”

 

galloblog_searchterms_pie
I usually make up my own data and facts for this blog, but this is for real. Hot of the press! Pie chart made in excel LIKE A BOSS!

 

But of that small minority of search terms that were actually registered, I was alarmed to find out that almost everyone coming to my page is a creepy male supremacist!

 

galloblog_table3
Also real search terms, I promise. Also note these quantities represent 10,000 😉 Also note I praise-handed the terms that I actually want to lead people to my blog 😀

 

Y’all… I don’t know what to do. My only kinda-long-term-successful post is driving traffic to Galloblog from…. the Milo Yiannapoulos fan club?!?

If you are reading this because you want to woman-hate, move it along. Also, I’m not patheric, YOU ARE! Lolzzzz

 

Alarmedly yours,

Galloswag

— EDITORIAL NOTES —

I’m sorry if you were expecting an actual point or conclusion to this. This was about as “about nothing” as I’ve ever posted. But holy moly! What hath Galloswag wrought?

 

 

You can not speak good and still be right

I recently watched the Jimmy Kimmel interview with George W. Bush, and I recalled how everyone used to talk about what an idiot George W. was when he was president. That always annoyed me – I mean, the dude went to Yale and he became President of the free world – obviously there’s something going on up in there. Plus, anyone with that good of a sense of humor has to be intelligent in at least some capacity. Yet because he’s not very articulate, a lot of people consider him to be stupid.*

georgew.png
Confession: I have a celebrity crush on the W. JUDGE ALL YOU WANT! (pic from youtube screenshot – hopefully no copyright issues there??)

Now, put this together with people’s snobbery in general towards Southerners, &/or people who don’t use perfect grammar. If you see a fb argument and someone accidentally uses “their” instead of “there,” the argument is over. That person is destroyed and must fall on their cyber sword. I’m not hating against using standard English or talkin’ fancy, especially in writing (some people’s writing is so bad that I seriously don’t even know what they’re trying to say). But there are two points here I want to make –

1) You can be a terrible speaker/writer and still be really smart, and you can be a great speaker/writer and still be fairly basic.

I don’t think this needs much explanation, but if I stuttered through my dissertation defense – wouldn’t the quality of my dissertation itself be the same? Yet if an 8 year old child memorized my presentation, took acting and diction lessons, and rattled through my defense presentation perfectly… would that kid be smarter than me, or have a superior understanding of my dissertation topic? Nope-ity dope-ity.

Okay, second point is kinda sorta loosely related to the first.

2) Using good logic or extrapolating from known data doesn’t guarantee you will come to the right conclusions, and being illogical and subjective doesn’t necessarily make you come to the wrong conclusions.

Example 1: “It’s okay for people to force inferior beings to work for you without pay. Black people are inferior to white people. Therefore, it’s okay to force black people to work for white people without pay.”

I intentionally chose something super inflammatory to make the point that the argument above isn’t illogical, but it has a very flawed assumption – that black people are inferior to white people. At the time, though, there was “science” that people used to “prove” that white people were superior. If you argued against them at that time, they could have accused you of ignoring the data, or being anti-science, or being illogical. And maybe they weren’t even trying to be sinister — I’m sure there were people who believed in the scientific racism at the time and thought it was high quality science. And truly, if you accept their interpretation of the data, then the statement above is logical. But as (I hope!) you would agree, it was an evil, wrong conclusion.

Example 2: “It’s not okay to use black people to do work for you without pay, because I like black people and I just don’t feel right about forcing them to work for free.”

The example 2 argument is not a good argument. It draws on subjective feels and intuition. At one time, it would have gone against the “scientific data.” But as (I hope!) you would agree, it’s the right conclusion.

So my point: this is not an “anti-science” post. I love science. I am a scientist. But at the same time, I just want to caution academics and other members of the intelligentsia to not be intellectually arrogant, and to at least consider the possibility that the intuitive, subjective conclusions that the uneducated masses from Podunkville have made could be right. The same applies if you’re an outsider evaluating the merit of different choices or options. It’s important to use logic and good data to draw conclusions and make assumptions, for sure. But 1) think critically about all the assumptions behind the logic and 2) at least consider the possibility that the data is incomplete, limited, or even just wrong.

Finally, also consider what incentive people have to either agree or disagree with the data. For example, if someone presented data that strongly implicated that my Dad was an ax murderer, I would be *WAY* more critical of that data than some random person in Moscow would be. And being more critical of that data wouldn’t make me less intelligent, it would just mean my life history gives me a very different threshold for convincing. In fact, rando in Moscow would probably be less qualified than me to look at the data, because this person has no personal experience with my Dad. Yes? *anyway*

Main point: don’t be a snooty-pants. ❤

— EDITORIAL NOTES —

*all politics aside – I’m not talking about stupid policies. That’s a whole ‘nother can o’ worms.

FOR THE LOVE OF GEORGE W. BUSH, LIKE, COMMENT, OR SHARE! (even if you didn’t like it, I want to know! Please and thank you 🙂 )