The world is faced with enormous challenges, and we need creativity and innovation more than ever. Whether today’s focus is on climate change, terrorism, economic collapse or disease, the ‘old-world’ thinking that got us here will not be good enough to lead us to where we need to get to.
No one can dispute that the growth of the internet and the explosion of personal device ownership has made available more data to more people in the space of just a few short years than was ever available in the history of humanity. The trouble is that knowledge search algorithms generally assume that volume is good. The more something is searched for, the more privileged it becomes. The information at the top of the list does not reflect quality, it reflects desirability. And, it fosters laziness. Personalisation ensures that we are presented with our ‘favourites’, the things we have ‘said we enjoy’ in the past. Despite the diversity of knowledge that is potentially available, the interfaces through which we access information, ironically, narrows our universe.
The invalid assumption that correlation implies cause is probably among the two or three most serious and common errors of human reasoning. ~ Stephen Jay Gould, evolutionary biologist and author, 1981
I have a background in science. I was trained in the scientific method and have the conscience of Karl Popper on my shoulder much of the time. In recent years I have been able to unshackle myself a little from the constraints this can place on my tolerance, and been able to stay chilled a little more than I used to be able to when I see or hear people purport to use ‘science’ to make questionable and spurious claims.
However, every now and then I get mad. Especially when the people behind the claims ought to know better. When people misuse ‘science’ to dupe the public and sway political and social debates.
This week was one of those weeks. Junior Doctors are currently in the middle of a dispute with the UK Government, which led to the first of three planned strikes. Now, I have no wish to make any party political points in this post, and my compulsion to write is not driven by any particular support for either side in the dispute. Rather it is based on the oft quoted claim made by Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, that: “….at the moment we have an NHS where if you have a stroke at the weekends, you’re 20% more likely to die. That can’t be acceptable.”
Now if this bald fact were true it would clearly be quite alarming, and no doubt the public would be rightly supportive of action to do something about it. Before digging into the accuracy or otherwise of the claim, it has clearly proved to be a pretty ‘sticky’ soundbite.