the myth of statistics


“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

We are living in a data-obsessed world now.

Everything we do is rationalised, put on weights with the help of data.

We are counting the steps we walk each day to improve our health. I recently met my childhood friends during Diwali night, and it was amusing to reminisce over the long-lost joys of our playful evenings.

We did not need step counters or KPIs to find joy in our lives; it would be just a simple game of hide-n-seek to make our evenings memorable. Or sometimes, we would even create a make-believe sports reality show amongst the ten of us and feel like the kings of the planet.

The quotation I started this post with comes from the first page of my high school Statistics textbook – a strong statement about data which we have forgotten in today’s time and day. I remember trying to put across the same thoughts, even in university, about how quantification of everything – might not be healthy and accurate.

I realise quantification is how we have learnt to do things in our practical day-to-day lives. Yet, somehow this dire need to measure and evaluate everything sucks the sweet nectar out of life, and we are left with modern intellectual cynism.

In the never-ending data-driven infinity of today’s world, ignorance can be a blessing sometimes – to be and celebrate the little joys of our life.

Someone recently reminded me how an excess of anything could be unhealthy, and the same goes for all our daily activities and even how we think about things and data.

I believe we can make meaning out of our lives without this great reliance on data and using quantification as a tool towards an end instead of quantification becoming an end in itself because of its nuances.

A Nat-Geo documentary recently taught me how thousands of years ago, the concept of plastic surgery emerged first from India – devised by the Ayurvedic rishi – Sushrut, and he elaborately explains different surgical procedures in 186 chapters of Shushrut Samhita, which has also been the inspiration for modern medicine.

Perhaps, what has changed from Sushrut’s time and today is the focus on symptoms versus the root cause.

And all of this medicinal knowledge was qualitatively research-backed (not necessarily data) – based on Sushrut’s learnings from Divodasa Dhanvantri, the king of Kashi.

All this rich medical knowledge would not have been created and documented if we had kept asking Sushrut to share his findings with the help of data empirically.

What are your thoughts?

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