Science, Skepticism, and Me

The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe. This podcast has been the single constant on my feed. While not the first podcast I ever tried, it’s been very instrumental in my choices and direction over the last five to six years.

I totally stole this from the header of their webpage.

See, several years ago I got caught up in a severe incident in the workplace. We had a major problem that revolved around the loss of some critical process knowledge. It had been replaced with an extraordinarily crude system of anecdotes that didn’t really help solve the problem at hand.

Being a rather analytical person to begin with some of the resulting actions came somewhat naturally.  It started with recording information. We no longer really knew what was important, so we erred on the side of recording as much as humanly possible. This naturally leads in the (in)famous Six Sigma. Not a popular framework around my parts.

So here I am, learning how good science is supposed to work from a podcast while having a slightly more hands on experience with Six Sigma and minitab. This really helped drive home how important the method of collection and Gage R&R are.

I got to see first hand how you can take 100 data samples and run the math to find a correlation. Then collect another 100 data samples only to get a different and sometimes conflicting results. How those correlations can simple evaporate entirely when you use more rigorous collection methods and/or better controls. I didn’t just know it, I understood it.

I got to hear the anecdotes and test them. I got to see just how reliable they aren’t. How easily manipulated our perception of reality is. How I could get a complain, pretend to make an adjustment, then be told how much better it is, not because it’s changed, but because they think it’s changed. It led to a lot of questioning of how much of what we perceive is even real at all.

At some point in here we even had a sort of seminar from a guy named Todd Conklin on how organizations handle failure and how to maybe do it a little better. Was a good seminar with some similar themes to the other events, I even think I have one of his books around here somewhere. I’ve actually become rather fascinated with human error in general and enjoy reading the details of usually horrible events and how they happened. The most recent read was the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster.

Anyway, all these events together have lent a certain… color… to how I view the world. This is a rather highly charged subject at times and as such I don’t intend to discuss it often. Honestly if you want that kind thing I suggest you check out Neurologica. Dr. Novella does science and skepticism with more depth than I can honestly be bothered with.

I’m not really sure what the point of this post is anymore, it’s become a kind of backstory on part of who I’ve become. It remains an important background dialogue always running through my head. I don’t tend to talk about it much. The events in question, while ultimately contributing to a positive outcome, were a very negative experience at the time. Unfortunately I’m not in a position to discuss them in detail.

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