Numbers and Statistics.

There’s no denying we’re living in an ‘information age’. People these days are obsessed with numbers and statistics, if you visit the PGA Tour’s website and seek out their statistics section you’ll see what I mean. They may even have a stat to see who takes the most toilet breaks per round of Golf. You can’t deny that numbers are the facts, but that’s all people tend to look at. I think there may be more value however in looking at how the numbers were formed.

I recently visited the EGU’s Christmas Camp and as I walked in there was an intelligent man guiding everybody through a screen full of numbers and statistics and what they meant. I was stunned by the depth, It was impressive. But It was seeing this that made me realise just how significant numbers have become. So much so in fact that if as a player you decide not to complete your stat returns, you will have your funding cut. Then the topic arose of having to know the difference between an 18 foot putt and a 21 foot putt, I started to rub my eyeballs just to make sure they were still there. But the very best one was when I was informed of a (world class) player who’s working on getting used to using yards instead of a metres, bearing in mind he grew up in metre’s! I imploded thinking about the sheer unnecessary-ness, but I had to remain vigilant so I think I just grimaced.

I realise my spin on events that day aren’t tremendously positive, and before I come across as forgetful I want to say how the EGU have done a brilliant job in the past. But, I just fear that an approach so ‘Einsteinian’ may have adverse effects. I was regularly informed of how these numbers were predominantly being passed through the hands of Coaches alike, so they could see the information and make decisions based on the facts. The players didn’t have to see the numbers, (which is great) they just had to know what a 21 foot putt looked like. (which isn’t)

If I were to take a speculative guess at why people so heavily involved with numbers often make bad decisions in relative to what logic should tell us, I would come to the conclusion that It’s because they see people as numbers. After reading a book about the financial crash in America, this was strikingly evident. They were throwing money around like Floyd Mayweather. They forgot about the people whose money it was. When you start to judge people and make decisions about them based on numbers, I believe you’re in dangerous territory.

I believe you should explore the anthropological world before using data alone to make important decisions. I try not to see things at face value, I prefer to delve into the murky world beneath. People see statistical information as the murky world beneath where all truths reveal themselves. In actual fact, they’re not. A confident decision cannot be made until you have explored what created the numbers, the human being.

My aim isn’t to turn people off using statistical information, it’s to make people realise how sometimes they are inaccurate and worse still, dangerous. But we still love them because they provide clarity, no matter how accurate they are. We love answers, and we see the numbers as answers. What I will say is good luck on projecting future outcomes when all you look at are present numbers. Until we begin to look beneath the numbers, until we begin to explore people and how their lives affect the numbers, we will continue to squander talent and make bad predictions.

Gamblers are brilliant examples of people who make predictions using numbers, the very reason Bookmakers are so rich. If every gambler had the required savvy before placing his bet, there would be few Bookmakers, if any.

So returning to my EGU experience, I think the people in charge of the numbers need to use them last instead of first. Let the numbers compliment your endowed beliefs. That way we will see not only more success, but success with character.

From sunny Qatar,

That Wise Old Owl.

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1 Response to Numbers and Statistics.

  1. Matt Hamilton says:

    As a mathematician and golf lover (and father) I am frustrated by the plethora of useless data out there – for the end user. For a mathematician I can happily dive into the databases of information and extract useful information but simply flooding people (and golfers) with the raw stuff is completely counter-productive. The meeting you sat through sounds like a prime example of ‘missing the point’ and thus the potency of statistical insights. The PGA Tour offer a prize every year for a paper published that makes the best use of their data – its often enough won by someone at MIT or their ilk and sadly common sense plus rigour seem to remain similarly rare/elite/ununsual. Its a pity because an end user friendly examination of the data by a capable statistician/mathematician would be useful to many open-minded, ambitious golfers.

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