Stop Lazy Thinking

I see this commercial by Verizon (see above) and while I understand (and support) the sentiment that we should support girls in the pursuit of their dreams, what really bugs me is the “Apples and Oranges” comparison of statistics that is used right at the end. It is an example of Lazy Thinking masquerading as marketing.  Clearly it was not created by a capable science writer or at least not by an ethical writer with a clear understanding of the proper use of statistics.  As they say, “The numbers don’t lie … but liars often use numbers.”

I hate Lazy Thinking…

The commercial compares a survey of science and math interest at a young age to the percentage of a single type of major (engineering). Those 66% girls who “liked science & math” may be a completely different population compared to the students who make up the 18% of engineering majors.  What if it was rephrased as “82% of 4th grade boys liked science & math and 82% of engineering majors are male”?  Using the logic implied by the commercial, that would mean that every boy became an engineer.  Does that make sense?  I would suspect that “100% of 4th grade boys ‘liked recess’ but what percentage majored in “sports” or something even remotely similar?


The comparison in the commercial also does not address how many of the “66%” might have gone on to major in physics, math, biology, medicine or countless other “science & math” majors.  Based on the statistics presented, it doesn’t make sense to draw a conclusion that girls are not using their interest in “science & math” in other ways when they go to college.  Wouldn’t it be more important to know how many girls (or boys) go on to college in the first place?


One last point…

If 66% “liked science & math” I wonder what percentage liked “helping others” or “fashion” or “taking care of animals”? Any of these areas could have been higher than 66% but the percentage that major in one of those [much more specific] areas would likely be lower than the ones who “liked it” as a kid, regardless of gender.


Bottom Line:

What we like in 4th grade, regardless of gender, doesn’t always have a strong correlation to our major in college or even the career we end up building.  Can’t we just encourage kids to explore lots of areas while they are young?  I would ask Verizon to remove the statistic at the end of the commercial and just end with the phrase (which is already used in the voice-over) “Encourage her love of science and technology and inspire her to change the world.”


The Lazy Thinking Challenge

Am I wrong?  How?  Did I miss something?  I challenge anyone who reads this article to call me to task for any aspect of my argument and point out any places where I’ve displayed Lazy Thinking.  I will admit I’m not a statistics expert and I’m sure there are more specific terms for the mismatch I’ve pointed out so I hope you will point them out for the benefit of other readers.  Where do see Lazy Thinking in the media?  In science?  Leave an example in the comments below and I may feature it in a follow up article !

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