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Here are 15 Common Data Fallacies to Avoid

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In today’s tech-driven economy, data is essential for gaining new insights, making decisions, and building products.

In fact, there is so much data out there, that the quantity of it is doubling every two years – and by 2020, there will be 45,000 exabytes of data in existence.

This is an unprecedented figure, and it’s hard to put into perspective. To give you some sense, a single exabyte is equal to 1,000,000,000 GB of data, and five exabytes has been said to be roughly equal to “all of the words ever spoken by mankind”.

Common Fallacies With Data

As you can imagine, digging through all of this data can be quite the challenge.

Data comes in many different forms and not all of them are easy to analyze. As a result, it is tempting to take shortcuts with data, or to try and fit data into our pre-conceived notions of how things ought to be.

Today’s infographic comes to us from Geckoboard and it shows the common mistakes that people make in analyzing data. We’ve reformatted their PDF to fit here.

15 Common Data Fallacies

Here are 15 Common Data Fallacies to Avoid

How do we avoid painting a bullseye around the arrow, so that we can interpret the meaning of data in a logical, consistent, and methodological way?

The key is to understand common mistakes that people make with data, and why these errors skew our interpretations.

Examples of Fallacies

Here are four in-depth examples of fallacies, and why each is considered a faux-pas by data scientists.

Survivorship Bias

When people analyze the qualities it takes to be a good entrepreneur, we typically look at the existing population of successful entrepreneurs for clues. However, by limiting our sample just to this “surviving” group of entrepreneurs, we run the risk of survivorship bias.

There are certainly lessons we can learn from all of the entrepreneurs who have failed – they are just much harder to find. Integrating that data into the story can help complete a much fuller picture.

False Causality

Did you know that there is a 95% correlation between the marriage rate in Kentucky and the amount of people who drown each year from falling out of fishing boats? (See it, an other bizarre correlations here)

Kentucky marriages vs. people who drown

Does this mean that there is some sort of relationship between the two variables?

Finding a high level of correlation can happen simply by chance – but awarding false causality is one of the most amateur statistical mistakes in the book.

The Gambler’s Fallacy

If the roulette wheel turns up black for 26 times in a row, does that mean that it will revert back to red?

It’s easy to say that the odds don’t change, but imagine being in the moment. The Gambler’s Fallacy happens with data analysis as well: just because something happens unusually frequently over a period of time doesn’t mean that nature will “even it out”.

The Cobra Effect

Data can be used to measure progress in achieving business goals, but what if there is incentive to game these goals?

Wells Fargo, in an effort to upsell existing clients, introduced an incentive called “eight is great”. In short, their employees were encouraged to sell eight accounts per customer, which could take the form of credit cards, savings accounts, and other financial services.

In an example of good intentions gone awry, Wells Fargo employees began breaking the rules to meet their targets. Millions of unauthorized credit card and deposit accounts were opened based on this perverse incentive, and the bank was eventually ordered to pay a $142 million settlement.

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Misc

The Topography of Mars: Visualizing an Alien Landscape

What is the surface of the Red Planet like? This beautiful map helps to break down the topography of Mars in awesome detail.

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The Topography of Mars: Visualizing an Alien Landscape

The surface of the Red Planet is full of surprises.

While the Grand Canyon and Mount Everest are both impressive features on Earth, they are nothing next to Valles Marineris and Olympus Mons, their epic Martian counterparts.

Even more extraordinary, the overall difference between the highest and lowest point on Mars is 19 miles (31 km), whereas just 12 miles (20 km) separates the summit of Mount Everest from the bottom of the Mariana Trench on Earth.

This week’s map comes to us from Reddit user /hellofromthemoon, who carefully laid out the terrain of Mars in awesome detail.

Take a look…

Lay of the Land

Mars can be divided into two major regions, separated by a ridge of mountains roughly around the planet’s middle.

On the north side are lowlands that have been shaped by lava flows, creating a surface dominated by large plains. Meanwhile, the southern hemisphere is mountainous, with many meteorite impact craters, some of which stretch for hundreds of kilometers.

The Plains Game

The plains of Mars fall into two categories: the planitia (Latin for “plains”) and the maria (Latin for “seas”). The latter type is named after the sea because these regions appeared to be under water in the eyes of early astronomers. But actually, the surfaces of these regions are covered with many rocks, making them look darker to the eye.

The second type of plains are the planitia, and they account for vast areas covered by sand rich in iron oxide. The strong winds that blow the sand and dust around can change the configuration of the plains, forming new patterns on the surface of Mars. However, the planet’s features remain relatively unchanged over time.

One of the largest plains is the Utopia Planitia (Latin for “Nowhere Land Plain”) impact basin. This giant impact crater lies within a larger lava plain. With an estimated diameter of 3,300 km, Utopia Planitia is the largest recognized impact basin in the solar system.

As Above, so Below

The northern and southern hemispheres are vastly different from one another on Mars, and such a stark difference is unlike any other planet in the solar system. Patterns of internal magma flow could have caused the variation, but some scientists think it is the result of Mars taking one or several major impacts.

About 4.5 billion years ago, Mars formed from the collection of rocks that circle the sun before they formed the planets. Over time, the red planet’s molten masses differentiated into a core, a mantle, and an outer crust.

Understanding how the red planet’s topography changes over time is a crucial step in grasping how the planet formed. That is why NASA launched the InSight Mars lander on May 5, 2019. This probe will listen for vibrations deep within the Martian crust to further understand the composition of the planet.

Site Selection

Understanding the topography of Mars is critical for any mission to the planet, including the selection of a site for a potential colony. There are three basic criteria for picking a manned mission landing site:

  1. A spot that is sustainable in terms of water, energy generation, and building materials.
  2. A spot that is scientifically interesting for a long mission.
  3. A spot that is safe to land.

Brian Hynek, a planetary scientist and Director of the Center for Astrobiology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, offers five potential landing sites:

  1. Outer edge of Mars’ North polar ice cap
  2. Deep canyon of Valles Marineris
  3. Martian “glaciers” in the Hellas Basin near Mars’ mid-latitudes
  4. Arabia Terra
  5. Martian lava tubes and caves

With growing information from every new mission to Mars, a greater picture will help guide future human activity and ambitions on the planet.

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History

The History of the World, in One Video

This epic attempt to condense the history of the world — including the rise and fall of empires — fits into a single video.

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Throughout the history of the world, many civilizations have risen and fallen.

You may be familiar with the achievements of prominent societies like the Romans, Mongols, or Babylonians, but how do all of their stories intertwine over time and geography?

Visualizing the History of the World

Today’s video comes to us from Ollie Bye, and it attempts to integrate the histories of all major civilizations known by historians into a single, epic video.

Similar to the Histomap, it’s pretty much impossible for a video like this to be perfect due to biases and a general lack of data. However, it’s still a compelling attempt at showing global history in a short and sweet fashion.

Let’s look at some specific moments on the video that particularly stand out.

750 AD: The Umayyad Caliphate

One of the largest empires in history, the Umayyad Caliphate peaked sometime around 750 AD.

Umayyad Caliphate

Conquering most of North Africa, the Middle East, and even parts of Europe (including modern-day Spain, Portugal, and France), the Umayyads commanded a formidable territory with an area of 11,100,000 km² (4,300,000 sq. mi) and encompassing 33 million people.

1279: Mongol Dominance

No history of the world is complete without a mention of the Mongols.

Nearby societies have always been on edge when nomadic tribes in the Eurasian Steppe entered into organized confederations. Similar to the Huns or various Turk federations, the Mongols were known for their proficiency with horses, bows, and tactics like the feigned retreat.

Under the leadership of Temüjin ⁠— also known as Genghis Khan ⁠— the Mongols conquered one of the largest empires by land.

Mongol Empire Map

The empire reached its greatest extent just two years after the death of Genghis Khan.

Later on, it fragmented into smaller empires that were also quite notable in the context of world history. For example, Kublai Khan — the grandson of Genghis Khan — even went on to begin the influential Yuan Dynasty in China.

1346: The Black Death

The video also shows other vital stats, such as an estimate of global population through the ages.

In the mid-14th century, you can see this number take a rare U-turn, as millions of people die from the infamous and deadly Bubonic Plague.

Spread of the Black Death

The Black Death ⁠— one of the most devastating pandemics in the history of the world ⁠— hit Europe in 1346, and it eventually killed 30-60% of the continent’s population. There is no exact figure on the final death toll, but historians estimate it to be somewhere between 75 and 200 million people throughout Eurasia.

1418: The Age of Discovery

The video also provides a 10,000-foot view of the Age of Discovery, a period of time in which European powers explored the world’s oceans.

The Age of Discovery

This colonial period marks the beginning of globalization, creating wide-ranging impacts that set the stage for more modern history.

In the video, it’s possible to see European colonies develop in all parts of the world, as well as how they eventually morphed into the countries that dot the globe today.

Playing the History Game

While it is certainly ambitious, not everyone will agree that this is a successful attempt at portraying world history – even in the limited scope of time allotted.

One key detail that seems to be missing, for example, is showing the development of the indigenous societies that existed in North America for thousands of years. That said, it’s also not clear what data and records are available to show these maps over many centuries of time.

Despite the possible flaws, the video does pack a lot of information into a short period of time, creating a compelling opportunity for learning and discussion. Like the Histomap, it may not be a definitive history of the world – but instead, it’s a useful attempt that stimulates our appetite for more information about the world and the societies that inhabit it.

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