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 2025, there will be 175,000 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 the incoming data we receive into our pre-conceived notions of how things ought to be.
15 Common Data Fallacies
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 examples of fallacies, and why each is considered a faux-pas by data scientists.
1. Survivorship Bias
When people analyze the qualities it takes to be a successful entrepreneur, we typically look at the existing population of established entrepreneurs for clues. However, by limiting our sample just to this “surviving” group of entrepreneurs, we run the risk of survivorship bias.
There are 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.
2. 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, and other bizarre correlations here)
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.
3. 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 on the next spin?
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”.
4. 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.
Sharpen Your Thinking with These 10 Powerful Cognitive Razors
Here are 10 razors, or rules of thumb, that help simplify decision-making, inspired by a list curated by the investor and thought leader Sahil Bloom.
Improve Your Decision-Making with These 10 Cognitive Razors
The average adult makes about 35,000 conscious decisions each day.
Given this sheer volume of choice, how do we ensure we’re making the right decisions, day in and day out, without becoming exhausted?
Using insights from investor and thought leader Sahil Bloom, this graphic shares 10 cognitive razors, or rules of thumb, that can help you simplify your decision-making.
We’ve organized Bloom’s favorite cognitive razors into three overarching categories, which we dive into in further detail below.
Location, Location, Location
The first theme is location, and the importance of being at the right place at the right time.
The Luck Razor falls into this category because it highlights the importance of putting yourself out there. According to the Luck Razor, when choosing between two paths, pick the one with the largest “luck surface area,” or the path that offers you the most opportunity to get lucky.
This is because when you’re networking, meeting people, and building new relationships, you’re much more likely to stumble upon an opportunity than if you were sitting on your couch, not taking action.
The Rooms Razor follows a similar theme because it emphasizes the importance of your surroundings. It stresses that, if you have a choice between two rooms to walk into, choose the one where you’re most likely to be the dumbest person in the room.
While it’s a bit of an uncomfortable situation, it provides a greater opportunity for growth, as long as you check your ego at the door and listen to what others have to say.
Lastly, the Arena Razor reminds us that when we want something, we need to take the necessary steps to make it happen.
For instance, if you want to become a social media influencer, you need to start creating content and posting it online. It’s not easy to put yourself out there and take action, but if you want to play the game, you need to be in the arena.
The Power of Positive Thinking
The next theme is the power of mindset and positive thinking. This relates to how you view your life, the people you choose to surround yourself with, and how you interpret the actions and opinions of others.
According to the Gratitude Razor, when in doubt, don’t hesitate to show your gratitude to people who have supported you, or given you advice or opportunities.
Research studies have shown that expressing gratitude and giving thanks can be correlated with greater happiness, improved health, and stronger more meaningful relationships. So make sure to say thank you regularly, and tell your loved ones how much you appreciate their support.
It’s not just your mindset that’s important, though. The Optimist Razor recommends surrounding yourself with optimists, rather than pessimists. Pessimists may point out everything that could go wrong in a scenario, which might discourage you to break out of your comfort zone.
Optimism, on the other hand, will emphasize everything that could go right—and may even help you problem solve if you encounter problems along the way.
Keep Decision-Making Simple, Silly
The last one is quite simple, really: don’t overcomplicate things.
Occam’s Razor, which is named after the 14th-century scholar Franciscan friar William of Ockham, is generally interpreted as the following: when faced with a decision between two competing theories that generate the same outcome, the simplest theory is often the best one.
As Bloom says in this blog post, “simple assumptions [over] complex assumptions. If you have to believe a complex, intertwined series of assumptions in order to reach one specific conclusion, always ask whether there is a simple alternative assumption that fits.”
The ability to make things simple is also a good indicator of how deeply you understand something. According to the Feynman Razor, if you can’t explain a concept simply, then you don’t really understand it. So, if someone uses a ton of jargon or complexity to explain something, they could be masking a lack of deeper knowledge on the topic.
Editor’s note: For more information on cognitive razors and simplifying your decision-making, check out Sahil Bloom’s newsletter, or listen to his podcast episode where he talks about the most powerful razors he’s discovered so far in life.
Every Mission to Mars in One Visualization
This graphic shows a timeline of every mission to Mars since 1960, highlighting which ones have been successful and which ones haven’t.
Timeline: A Historical Look at Every Mission to Mars
Within our Solar System, Mars is one of the most similar planets to Earth—both have rocky landscapes, solid outer crusts, and cores made of molten rock.
Because of its similarities to Earth and proximity, humanity has been fascinated by Mars for centuries. In fact, it’s one of the most explored objects in our Solar System.
But just how many missions to Mars have we embarked on, and which of these journeys have been successful? This graphic by Jonathan Letourneau shows a timeline of every mission to Mars since 1960 using NASA’s historical data.
A Timeline of Mars Explorations
According to a historical log from NASA, there have been 48 missions to Mars over the last 60 years. Here’s a breakdown of each mission, and whether or not they were successful:
|1||1960||Korabl 4||USSR (flyby)||Failure|
|2||1960||Korabl 5||USSR (flyby)||Failure|
|3||1962||Korabl 11||USSR (flyby)||Failure|
|4||1962||Mars 1||USSR (flyby)||Failure|
|5||1962||Korabl 13||USSR (flyby)||Failure|
|6||1964||Mariner 3||US (flyby)||Failure|
|7||1964||Mariner 4||US (flyby)||Success|
|8||1964||Zond 2||USSR (flyby)||Failure|
|11||1969||Mariner 6||US (flyby)||Success|
|12||1969||Mariner 7||US (flyby)||Success|
|15||1971||Mars 2 Orbiter/Lander||USSR||Failure|
|16||1971||Mars 3 Orbiter/Lander||USSR||Success/Failure|
|20||1973||Mars 6 Orbiter/Lander||USSR||Success/Failure|
|21||1973||Mars 7 Lander||USSR||Failure|
|22||1975||Viking 1 Orbiter/Lander||US||Success|
|23||1975||Viking 2 Orbiter/Lander||US||Success|
|24||1988||Phobos 1 Orbiter||USSR||Failure|
|25||1988||Phobos 2 Orbiter/Lander||USSR||Failure|
|27||1996||Mars Global Surveyor||US||Success|
|31||1998||Mars Climate Orbiter||US||Failure|
|32||1999||Mars Polar Lander||US||Failure|
|33||1999||Deep Space 2 Probes (2)||US||Failure|
|35||2003||Mars Express Orbiter/Beagle 2 Lander||ESA||Success/Failure|
|36||2003||Mars Exploration Rover - Spirit||US||Success|
|37||2003||Mars Exploration Rover - Opportunity||US||Success|
|38||2005||Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter||US||Success|
|39||2007||Phoenix Mars Lander||US||Success|
|40||2011||Mars Science Laboratory||US||Success|
|42||2013||Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution||US||Success|
|43||2013||Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM)||India||Success|
|44||2016||ExoMars Orbiter/Schiaparelli EDL Demo Lander||ESA/Russia||Success/Failure|
|45||2018||Mars InSight Lander||US||Success|
|47||2020||Tianwen-1 Orbiter/Zhurong Rover||China||Success|
|48||2020||Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover||US||Success|
The first mission to Mars was attempted by the Soviets in 1960, with the launch of Korabl 4, also known as Mars 1960A.
As the table above shows, the voyage was unsuccessful. The spacecraft made it 120 km into the air, but its third-stage pumps didn’t generate enough momentum for it to stay in Earth’s orbit.
For the next few years, several more unsuccessful Mars missions were attempted by the USSR and then NASA. Then, in 1964, history was made when NASA launched the Mariner 4 and completed the first-ever successful trip to Mars.
The Mariner 4 didn’t actually land on the planet, but the spacecraft flew by Mars and was able to capture photos, which gave us an up-close glimpse at the planet’s rocky surface.
Then on July 20, 1976, NASA made history again when its spacecraft called Viking 1 touched down on Mars’ surface, making it the first space agency to complete a successful Mars landing. Viking 1 captured panoramic images of the planet’s terrain, and also enabled scientists to monitor the planet’s weather.
Vacation to Mars, Anyone?
To date, all Mars landings have been done without crews, but NASA is planning to send humans to Mars by the late 2030s.
And it’s not just government agencies that are planning missions to Mars—a number of private companies are getting involved, too. Elon Musk’s aerospace company SpaceX has a long-term plan to build an entire city on Mars.
Two other aerospace startups, Impulse and Relativity, also announced an unmanned joint mission to Mars in July 2022, with hopes it could be ready as soon as 2024.
As more players are added to the mix, the pressure is on to be the first company or agency to truly make it to Mars. If (or when) we reach that point, what’s next is anyone’s guess.
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