Skip to main content

The Statistic

There are times when nothing makes sense. The universe, despite its patterns, seems random, chaotic, and even cruel. Yet, reality simply is. We can study statistics, predict possible outcomes, develop complex models for nearly every contained system… yet on the personal level those models are useless.

We can predict that one person of every thousand contracts a given disease, a numeric formula safely separating the person from the calculation. Risk management, economics, and various sciences step in for the analysis. Everyone involved digests the numbers and accepts them as theoretical models.

Yet the model is meaningless to the statistic… that one person.

Parents hear statistics and worry. Contexts are often missing, especially comparison to other statistics. How dangerous is something, really, when compared to other risks?

We know travel by car is very dangerous, but it is familiar. We worry about the unusual, the strange.

In 2004, 27 children died in cribs according to the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics. That's it... 27. By comparison, 6047 people died that year trying to cross the street. Yet, we worry a lot more about cribs than street crossings.

Two years ago, six children were harmed by swimming pool filtration systems. One was fatal, sadly, at a Minnesota country club. Now, we have state and federal regulations covering filtration system inspections.

What does this have to do with autism?

Statistics and anecdotes compete for the attention of parents. Statistics and risk analysis might indicate one thing, as measured and tested by scientists and researchers, but parents hear and read personal stories. These stories matter more.

In fact, I've read numerous studies that show people who read a personal story simply cannot relate to the statistics afterwards. You read about a child's negative reaction to a treatment, a vaccine, an over-the-counter medication, an educational strategy, and you remember that negative story. Negatives are far, far more memorable. Recalling negatives helps a species survive -- we evolved to be cautious.

Personal stories affect us. Statistics don't. That's why horror stories about dangerous cribs, swimming pool filters, and even exploding cell phones scare us. We remember those stories, especially if we lack enough positive offsets. Because we don't have an accident every time we ride in the car, we rationalize the risks. We understand driving does not always equal death. But, how familiar are we with vaccines? We don't get them every day. How familiar are we with special diets? Hyperbolic chambers?

The unfamiliar is hard to understand -- even with statistical analysis.

No matter how many numbers I cite, no matter how scientifically and statistically valid the results, what matters to a parent is what he or she has read, seen, or heard anecdotally. The people they meet, the other parents they talk to, the conference gatherings, all matter more
than any statistics. It's human -- lot logical, but human.

And, even with statistics, that one person who does react to a "statistically safe" treatment, medication, etc., won't care about the statistics. We want "safe" to mean "0.0% risk" and that's simply not possible. So the one injury, the one horror story, matters.

I worry about tornadoes. I know that statistically, the last deadly and destructive tornado where I live was nearly 20 years ago. I still worry. It's not logical, as least not statistically, but tell that to the families affected by a storm. They aren't mere statistics.

We try to avoid risks. Curiously, we don't always avoid the statistically significant risks. We avoid those risks that scare us the most.

Comments

  1. Your thesis probably explains the differential fear of animals: a mountain lion kills one person every second year, and it ignites a panic with people demanding that someone "do something" and wondering if they should take a gun with them when they hike in the woods, while being unmoved by the fact that deer kill a hundred times as many people every year as every other sort of wildlife (except microbes) put together.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Comments violating the policies of this blog will not be approved for posting. Language and content should be appropriate for all readers and maintain a polite tone. Thank you.

Popular posts from this blog

Autism, Asperger's, and IQ

"Aren't people with Asperger's more likely to be geniuses? Isn't genius related to autism?"

A university student asked this in a course I am teaching. The class discussion was covering neurological differences, free will, and the nature versus nurture debate. The textbook for the course includes sidebars on the brain and behavior throughout chapters on ethics and morality. This student was asking a question reflecting media portrayals of autism spectrum disorders, social skills difficulties, and genius.

I did not address this question from a personal perspective in class, but I have when speaking to groups of parents, educators, and caregivers. Some of the reasons these questions arise, as mentioned above, are media portrayals and news coverage of autism. Examples include:
Television shows with gifted characters either identified with or assumed to have autistic traits: Alphas, Big Bang Theory, Bones, Rizzoli and Isles, Touch, and others. Some would include She…

Listen… and Help Others Hear

We lack diversity in the autism community.

Think about what you see, online and in the media. I see upper-middle class parents, able to afford iPads and tutors and official diagnoses. I see parents who have the resources to fight for IEPs and physical accommodations.

I see self-advocacy leadership that has been fortunate (and hard working, certainly) to attend universities, travel the nation (or even internationally), and have forums that reach thousands.

What I don't see? Most of our actual community. The real community that represents autism's downsides. The marginalized communities, ignored and excluded from our boards, our commissions, our business networks.

How did my lower-income parents, without college educations, give me a chance to be more? How did they fight the odds? They did, and now I am in a position of privilege. But I don't seem to be making much of a difference.

Demand that your charities seek out the broadest possible array of advisers and board members.…

Life Updates: The MFA Sprint

Life is okay, if more than a little hectic at the end of this first month.

With one month down, I'm 11 months away from my MFA in Film and Digital Technology. Though things might happen and things do go wrong, so far I'm on schedule and things are going well —— though I'm exhausted and working harder than I did for any other degree. Because the MFA requires projects every week, this isn't as easy to schedule as writing. Even researching a paper can be done from the comfort of home, at any hour.

You cannot make movies by yourself, at any time of day. It doesn't work that way. Filming takes time, and often requires a team of people. It's not comparable to working alone on a degree in writing or rhetoric.

The team-based nature of film is exhausting for me, but I enjoy the results. I also like the practical nature of the skills being taught. You either learn how to adjust ISO, f/Stop, shutter speed, and other variables or you don't. You can have theories …