Do you need statistics to understand your data?
Hello, and welcome back to week 2!
Today, I am posed with the question of whether we need statistics to understand our data.
Now, when it comes to this question, I am inclined to say no for one simple reason: I had a lot of trouble with statistics in the first year of my degree, yet show me some data that has been collected, (infact, I saw data that I collected myself last year for that matter) and I could tell you what’s going on.
For example, let’s look at Milgram’s famous study of obedience.
He asked participants to play the role of ‘teacher’ and everytime their ‘student’ got a question wrong, they had to give them an electric shock of varying shock ratings (eg. slight shock, moderate shock, danger: severe shock and the slightly worrying XXX).
(For those of you who don’t know the study, there wasn’t actually anyone getting an electric shock…it was all a trick. Sneaky these psychologists, aren’t they?)
Anyway, the results showed that of the 40 participants in the study, 26 delivered the maximum shocks while 14 stopped before reaching the highest levels. It is important to note that many of the subjects became extremely agitated, distraught and angry at the experimenter. Yet they continued to follow orders all the way to the end.*
Now, imagine you know nothing about SPSS, t-tests, ANOVAs etc. and you’re just looking at these results. Surely, you can tell that every single participant gave an electric shock at least once, and over 50% of them gave the maximum shock there was, just because they were told to by an authority figure. You don’t need statistics to conclude that these participants would obey an authority figure even if it meant harming others, and even harming their own mental well-being.
I’m not saying that we don’t need statistics. But do we need statistics to UNDERSTAND data that is put in front of us? I don’t think so. I, personally, get confused after the statistics.
I appreciate that there are data sets that may be too big or too complex to deduce what’s going on just by simply looking at the data in front of you. And yes, for these we would need statistics to help us make sense of what we’re looking at. But again, do we really NEED the in depth understanding of statistics, or is it just a tool to help us make quick conclusions from our data?
I’m probably rather bias, as I’ve never really gotten my head around statistics very well, but still, I am yet to come across some data where I couldn’t see what was going on without having to apply a lot of complicated statistics to it. The again, maybe I just haven’t looked hard enough 😉
Next week, I’ve been given somewhat of a free pass. So I hope you all enjoy surprises.