Lazy Generalisations Abound

Browsing about, I happened to stumble upon a post by an English postdoc student opining on Statistics (‘I don’t mean this pejoratively but literally…’) that left me wondering about quite a number of things (which I will state, at the risk of sounding as opinionated and standoff-ish as the person I am referencing). 

1. As a whole, the post highlighted an issue that I’ve noticed with many students of English: dismissive, lazy generalisations of almost everything are abound, proclaimed emphatically and without much thought that point an audience to the ignorance apparent.

A crude example would be:  Hmmm politics employs sports metaphors; statistics is used in sports; men like sports more than women; prominent defenders of Nate Silver all seem to be male: BINGO! I have a Deep Theory^TM about the ‘culture’ of statistics. I will then, of course, completely ignore all the competent female statisticians who may be inclined to defend Silver from the ignorance of his detractors.

Why lazy? Perhaps because it’s becoming commonly accepted by many researchers (in the humanities) that they are bound by their own perceptions. Too often, this becomes an excuse to give up, not dig deeper. In this particular post, the laziness  is really captured in footnote *** – ‘I haven’t seen the counter-evidence, so I won’t bother about it.’

2. How does a critique of statistics end up with questions about gender? I’ve always wondered why obviously intelligent people would write a ludicrous, facile, irrational, and virtually meaningless thesis — gender is a factor in the study of statistics — backed by words such as ‘psychologized’ (?) and vague accusations of sexism?

It’d read like this: 1+1=2 is a masculine construct, that is to say boyish and puerile, because it’s binary, and it also purports to be “true,” as if such a thing could possibly exist – ‘truth’ is just a nonsensical patriarchal construct, etc. Oops, almost forgot, I need the catch-phrases, so let’s intersperse ‘psychologized’, ‘phenomenality’, ‘puerility’ – all words that make me sound smart and truthful, and they all start with P, and what other word starts with P? Penis. Et, voilà, job done!

3. How and why is the question of morality an issue in an abstract study of a subject? Criticizing statistics for not having a moral component is like criticizing morality for not helping you solve physics problems. (How many will even catch the logical fallacy in that statement of mine?)

All said, I’ve read the post twice and still can’t summarise her points in a convincing way (i.e. a way that I can convince myself that she’d think captures well what she wanted to convey).

Anyhow, in a search of more answers I read more of her writings and stumbled upon this clarification: ‘I plan to write my next book on a concept called puerility‘. Someone just saw an opportunity to make money!

Anyways, for those not interested in waiting for that book, she defines it: ‘Puerility is experimentalism’s playful and destructive younger brother, an anti-epistemological mode with a strong family resemblance to experimentalism’s deep investment in epistemology’.

I’m not holding my breath after that mouthful of a sentence.

Till Next Post!


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