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Gus Van Horn blog

Reblogged:We Don't Always Need More Information

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Statistician John Cook describes a phenomenon he often encounters in his consulting practice. He calls it missing information anxiety:

forest_trees.jpg
He couldn't see the forest -- or the way out -- for the trees. (Image by DarkWorkX, via Pixabay, license.)
I often tell clients they don't need information that they think they need. That news may come as a relief, or it may cause anxiety. I may tell a client, for instance, that missing data cannot change a conclusion, so it's not worth waiting for. Whether that brings relief or anxiety depends on whether they believe me.

There's a physics demonstration where you have a heavy ball on a long cable. You pull back the ball like a pendulum and let it touch your chin. Then let the ball go and stand still. If you're convinced of the physical laws governing the motion of the ball, you can stand there without flinching. You know that just as it left your chin with zero velocity, it will return with zero velocity... [bold added]
This is a valuable point. Mathematics is highly abstract, and the contention that no more data is needed might sound ridiculous to a non-mathematician. (This problem is not restricted to mathematics, but it is surely common among similarly abstract disciplines.) Cook speaks of putting "your own own face on the line before asking them to do the same," which is a good metaphor for tying one's abstractions to reality. Or, as one so often hears in communication advice: "Show, don't tell."

-- CAV

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