The glory of people being cleverer than me !

10 Apr

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I often find myself saying to students that you don’t have to be an expert in a particular topic to spot flaws in something you are being told. Just by applying rational thinking to ideas it’s often possible to detect a problem, even if you can’t quite put your finger on exactly what the problem is.

In the last couple of days I’ve come across a lovely example of this from my own thinking. In the past few months I’ve written a few times about my worries about the use of ‘big data’. I’m no statistics expert, but I’ve always worried about people trawling large datasets and coming up with post hoc conclusions. It seems to me that this flies in the face of the scientific method. I don’t have the statistical skills to articulate my concerns more than this, but my rational thinking skills are good enough to detect ‘something funny’ going on. What’s nice is that this week I’ve come across a great article by Gary Marcus in the New York Times, that articulates all the issues that I din’t have the skills to unearth.

So, two great teaching points for students:

1) You don’t have to be a ‘rocket scientist’ to identify issues within complex ideas

2) If you follow enough ‘rocket scientists’ on Twitter you will find an expert who can explain those issues for you

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