Thursday, June 21, 2012

Data Alone Doesn’t Make You A Genius

The daughter of a friend of mine was assaulted early on Sunday morning past.  When a devoted father goes to bed on Saturday night, looking forward to Father’s Day with his children the next day, the potential for such a nightmare is the furthest thing from his thoughts.

When it was carried by the local news media on various websites, some of the commentary was very disturbing.  People extrapolated that given the hour, she was probably returning from some seedy establishment and if so, she must have been dressed a certain way and if that was the case, perhaps she invited the assault (or deserved it).

Since I know this young lady, I know for a fact that none of this is true.  Even if it were true, a woman should have the right to be anywhere she wants and be dressed in any manner she chooses without the fear of being assaulted.  Unfortunately, such a right only exists in the perfect world.

As I read how these “geniuses’ reconstructed the crime scene without being there and with minimal data, I remembered the following story.

There was once a researcher who was researching the impact of loud sounds on insects.  He devised an experiment with an insect, a drum and a ruler to measure how high the insect would jump when the drum was struck.

He struck the drum and noted that the startled insect jumped 4 inches into the air.  This observation was carefully written down.

He then tied the insects front legs together, struck the drum and noted that the insect jumped 2 inches into the air.  This observation was also recorded in his journal.

Untying the front legs and tying the back legs produced the same result.

Finally, he tied all the legs together and struck the drum.  The insect did not jump into the air.  He struck the drum louder and then a third time but the insect still did not move.

Excited by his discovery, he recorded the following in his journal.

When all the insect’s legs are tied, the insect is deaf.

The Value of Data

Data is only of use when we interpret it correctly.  Interpreting it without context or in ignorance of other important, supporting data, is a waste of time in the simplest case and incredibly dangerous at other times.

And so whether one is judging my friend’s daughter’s situation or we look down upon the toothless, homeless person who smells to high heaven as they approach us on the street or we are preparing to launch a multimillion (or multibillion) dollar project, the same adage applies.

Just because you have some data doesn’t mean that you have the facts.

Without facts, knowledge cannot be created.

Without knowledge, understanding cannot find a home in our minds or our hearts.

And without understanding, the ability to help people overcome their challenges or to manifest one’s intentions (whether personal or professional) becomes difficult, if not impossible.

I think we should make it a practice to think about this before demonstrating our level of genius … or lack thereof.

What do you think?

In service and servanthood,


Addendum: After I posted this, someone shared this picture with me that I thought was appropriate to share on this blog.


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