Statistics And Geek Social Fallacies

I will never pretend to be anywhere near approaching a statistician. No. The best I can remember from my one Stats class in high school is that the x! permutation key on my calculator was extremely helpful.

So it’s with no scientific background at all that I am now equating a conversation I’m having about statistics with Geek Social Fallacies.

First, the stats.


These guinea pigs don’t care about your stats.

I was trying to reconcile how a tiny sample size taken out of millions can really serve up information you can use, or be thought of as a trend. Surely the size would have to be larger the more you add into the pool?

But no. A friend explained it this way:

“I have 1.6 metric tons of corn, sitting in 10 different piles. I’m curious what the average size of my corn kernels are. So I reach in and take a handful of 10 kernels from each of the piles, just reach in as deep as I can get and grab. When I put my 100 kernels on a table, I find that 97 of them are EXACTLY the same size. Amazingly so. The other 3 are pretty close. So I feel pretty confident that even though I only sampled 100 kernels out of trillions if not quadrillions of kernels, I probably have a good idea of what the average size is.”


Yeah. I see your corn.

I have a built-in aversion to averages in the first place; they never seem to fit me, and I never seem to be the one asked in any of the surveys on any topic. And surveys come with a set of questions that guide you down certain paths to begin with.

But I’m hardly unique in my feelings either, so perhaps we all average out in alarming ways.

My friend continued: “It works on the idea that even with a ridiculously small sample, in any group of things, there are going to be trends within those things. And often these trends have nothing to do with anything obvious.”

And with some relief, I found myself thinking about the Geek Social Fallacies.


Here’s a segue for you!

Here you have pockets of small groups created to feel inclusive, accepted, and even safe among what can be a lot of horrible experiences just because you don’t fit a conventional cultural narrative.

“[Geek Social Fallacy #1] is one of the most common fallacies, and one of the most deeply held. Many geeks have had horrible, humiliating, and formative experiences with ostracism, and the notion of being on the other side of the transaction is repugnant to them.

“In its non-pathological form, GSF1 is benign, and even commendable: it is long past time we all grew up and stopped with the junior high popularity games. However, in its pathological form, GSF1 prevents its carrier from participating in — or tolerating — the exclusion of anyone from anything, be it a party, a comic book store, or a web forum, and no matter how obnoxious, offensive, or aromatic the prospective excludee may be.

“As a result, nearly every geek social group of significant size has at least one member that 80% of the members hate, and the remaining 20% merely tolerate.”

For a quick and satisfying read, don’t miss the rest of the fallacies.

But there: No matter where we are or in what group, we’re going to come up against some commonalities from which you can extrapolate realities.

Is this always or generally accurate? I still say no, but this is also not where my strengths are, so what do I know.

But if we’re wrong about these things, at least we’re consistently wrong, so we’ve got that going for us.


Good Sportsmanship & Your Job


This week I attended my first “Town Hall” at work, a department-wide meeting of the kind that has chairs, a podium, a screen and a complimentary breakfast (yum!), as well as a dial-in number for those who couldn’t make it in person or were in another country.

I’m a contractor at my company, and recently I accepted a permanent position at another company. The big goodbye lunch is planned, the little goodbye lunches are being consumed, and there’s a lot of good-natured jibing for leaving along with congratulations and well-wishes. I’ve been with these people for awhile and have some excellent friends (one of whom I walk with over lunch, another of whom is teaching me Go, among other things), and I’ll miss seeing them every day.

Now, after we all came back up from the meeting, someone who had skipped the meeting asked why I’d gone, because I was not only a contractor, I wasn’t even going to be around for much longer.

He said, “You show far more good sportsmanship than I would.”

And I couldn’t help but think, isn’t that what it’s all about?

Good sportsmanship, sportspeopleship, whatever you want to call it—so I’m leaving soon for another company; so what? Does this mean the work I still have doesn’t matter? Should I sluff off company meetings and doodle my way through team fire drills just because I’m moving on? Because I’m “just” a contractor, should I act like my term is over before it really is?

I say a big fat no. There’s still a job to do while I’m at the company that gave me that job. Even as a contractor, I have the same goals, the same meetings, the same purpose as the permanent employees. And even with a new job on the horizon, this means being mentally as well as physically present. It means being the valuable resource I was when I was first hired.

What’s your definition of “good sportsmanship” when it comes to your job, volunteer service or organization you support? When do you feel you’re going too far above and beyond the written description—or is there no such thing?