I am Not a Number
Paul Shen
1

I feel the question is malformed because when you ask if we can trust data presented by others that includes any information that is given by others including “sources” as you mention in the next sentence. If what you meant to say is should we accept information presented to us without further investigation that presents a more nuanced and interesting question. Although the immediate answer everyone wants to say is yes we should always investigate everything, it is impossible to do so in a practical sense. I cannot be bothered when wanting to know the weather to build my own thermometer to check the temperature and so I will trust the data presented to me by my phone. That does not mean though, I cannot examine individual claims. If someone were to tell me one out of every ten people is murdered and quotes a paper as evidence, it is my duty to examine the paper, its thesis, its methodology, and its conclusion. From there I can find whether the person quoting the paper lied or misunderstood the message. However if the paper does say that, I can see in the methodology what led to such an outlandish conclusion. Numbers are very moldable and as the famous quote says, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

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