Statistics against humanity | AIER

Reprinted from Law and Freedom

There is a famous saying that is often misinterpreted with Joseph Stalin about the difference between tragedy and statistics: the death of one man is a tragedy, but the death of ten thousand people is a statistic. Beneath this insight is a deeper one; That is, the habit of treating people as statistics can blind us to the possibility of tragedy, in reality not only the human data points that make up graphs, pie charts and confidence gaps but also statisticians who want to present reality. Abstract and quantitative terms. This lesson is widely illustrated by the stories of three of the most important figures in the history of statistics, Francis Galton, Carl Pearson and Ronald Fisher. Everyone had mathematical talents, yet everyone became so accustomed to managing manages in terms of divisions and frequencies that they found themselves entangled in eugenics and racism.

Francis Galton, Charles Darwin’s first cousin, ranks as one of the great polymaths of the 19th century. Not having much success at school, he made significant contributions to a variety of fields such as biology, criminology, geography, meteorology, psychology, psychometrics, and statistics, largely thanks to his obsession with measurement and quantitative analysis. He was known to say, “Count where you can.” Statistically, Galton has made fundamental contributions to our understanding of standard deviation, correlation, regression analysis, and regression toward the average. As a eugenicist, Galton’s evidence is incomparable, since he coined the term in 1883. He further argued that the institution of marriage should not be allowed to interfere in the improvement of human stock, he wrote that “marriage does not preclude adultery. As long as it is monogamous.” In contrast, eugenics will reproduce

Protect the mother and father of the clan from any abuse of their relationship. Regarding the domestic and sympathetic function of marriage or even its selfish sexual function, we do not need to interfere in it. All we need is freedom [well-born] Those who have never seen each other before and never want to see each other, want to produce children under certain public conditions without loss of respect.

Galton’s racism was obvious. He defines eugenics as “the science that works with all the effects that enhance the innate qualities of a nation; also those who develop them to their maximum advantage” Provided. “He called it an” irrational feeling, “advocating for the reduction and ultimate annihilation of fewer nations.

An inferior nation against gradual extinction. It relies on some confusion between race and individual, as if the destruction of a nation is equivalent to the destruction of a large number of men. This is not the case when the extinction process works silently and slowly [the control of reproduction].

Galton’s most important accolade was Carl Pearson, who studied mathematics, physics, evolutionary biology, law, history and German before becoming professor of mathematics and geometry, wrote a three-volume biography of Galton and became the first holder of the Galton chair. Eugenics at the University of London. Pearson’s contribution to statistics is extensive, including the establishment of the first university statistics department, the development of the Chi-Square test, the concept of P-value, and the introduction of the Pearson correlation coefficient, among many other things.

Surprisingly, Pearson’s approach to eugenics was highly statistical. For example, he has produced evidence that, on average, a fit parent is twice as good as a fit grandparent. He sought to advance the destiny of the British people, writing that “the student of national genetics seeks by all means to develop and strengthen his own nation.” “

Pearson’s racism made him a strong proponent of colonialism. As the science of eugenics developed, he believed, it would help Britain advance its hegemony and thereby promote the development of a superior man. By taking land and resources from the “blind skin tribes” who had little idea of ​​how to use them for good, Britain and other colonial powers were advancing the victory of the most deserving group of people over the “inferior nations”. He wrote, “The time is coming when we must consciously purify the state and the nation which was still the work of the subconscious cosmic process.

Like Galton and Pearson, Fisher was a polymath who excelled in mathematics, statistics and genetics as well as other disciplines, and was a Galton professor of eugenics at University College London before becoming a professor of genetics at Cambridge. His contributions to statistics include the principle of randomization, the variant analysis (ANOVA), which enabled simultaneous variation of multiple factors in an experiment, and his anonymous student T-distribution, which is widely used throughout statistics. Fisher founded the Cambridge Eugenics Society, and in his third year of undergraduate studies he developed the merits of Galton’s opinion that

It is very important to choose [superior] To enable them to rise to the earth, regardless of the class in which they are born, to encourage them to marry women of their own intellectual class, and above all to see that their birth rate is higher than that of the common people. . . , But at present, there is no doubt that the birth rate of the most valuable class is significantly lower than that of the general population.

Fisher’s views on race were somewhat brief. He disagreed with the 1950s statement of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization on race because, despite its good intentions, it ignored the “real differences” that existed between human groups. Fisher acknowledges that genetic differences in mental abilities may be less important than those caused by tradition and training, although it is thought that

Given the recognizable existence of some physically manifested hereditary differences of an obvious nature, among the median or intermediate races, it would be strange if certain hereditary differences did not affect the mental traits that develop in a particular environment. . . . To most geneticists, it seems unreasonable to assume that psychological traits are subject to completely different laws of heredity than other biological traits.

How can the deepest immersion in statistics lead a bright mind to eugenics and racism? For one thing, statistics deal with people in extremely abstract terms. People are analyzed — etymologically, “cut up” ারেin different measurable parameters. The statistician then collects data on each parameter and looks for the correlation between them — between individuals, between individuals, and across large groups of people. Individuals with distinctive features are less interested, because their uniqueness makes them resistant to classification. Statisticians look at the world through a statistical lens and naturally look at their subjects quantitatively. From a statistical point of view, there is nothing to object to. From an ethical point of view, however, the situation looks quite different.

Suppose, for example, that a human being is in contrast to a large number of qualitative-quantitative-phenomena. To be sure, we can know one’s body weight, longevity, intelligence quotient, and annual income, but even when we have compiled all such quantitative data, a huge remnant of personality, character, and biography remains unaccounted for. The same can be said of human relationships. A marriage can be described in terms of many quantitative parameters, but no data set can capture such a large qualitative reality. Similarly, the categories to which people can be assigned tell us something about them, but the range of characteristics within a population group often exceeds or exceeds the limits within them. A human being has a lot more to do with statistics, and since statistics ignore many distinctive features, it often makes it inhumane for which it speculates.

Galton, Pearson and Fisher were strong advocates of measurement and data aggregation and statistical analysis. In their view, the most important truths about mankind come from the study of human aggregates. But many significant insights, including some notable ones, emerge only when we consider people as individuals. What if the most important scale of the study often required a sample size, not hundreds or thousands? Sophocles, Shakespeare and Tolstoy provided unparalleled insights into human life but did so while avoiding measurement and statistical analysis. Properly applied, statistics can enlighten us, but to consider statistics as the best or only window into human reality is to engage in an inhumane project with moral and political consequences that can prove nothing less than catastrophe.

Richard Gunderman

Richard Gunderman

Richard Gunderman, MD, PhD, is the Chancellor Professor of Radiology, Pediatrics, Medical Education, Philosophy, Liberal Arts, Philanthropy and Medical Humanities and Health Studies at Indiana University.

Her most recent books are Marie Curie and Contagion.

Receive notifications of new articles from Richard Gunderman and AIER.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.