Is Your Milk Safe? A Statistical Fable

This recently happened in a class at the Beijing Language and Culture University:

TEACHER Your milk is safe if you buy it at a supermarket.

STUDENT What do you mean, “supermarket”? Where else could you buy it?

TEACHER That’s a good question, I don’t know the answer. They told us to say that.

When analyzing their data, a vast number of scientists more or less blindly do what a statistics book told them to do, just as this teacher said what she’d been told to say. Even worse, a vast number of statistics textbook writers simply copy other textbooks (not word for word, just the ideas and recommendations). The scientists and the textbook writers take refuge in false certainty. They fail to grasp that although the recommendations are black and white, the world is not — just as it isn’t black and white what milk is safe. Unlike this particular classroom, no one questions this.

Thanks to Sally McGregor.

One Reply to “Is Your Milk Safe? A Statistical Fable”

  1. Your observation, while part and parcel of the human condition (we tend not to question authority/’experts’ or popular opinion etc etc), is even more pronounced in Communist countries. Probably tenfold more.

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