Folk wisdom and proofiness
"Is it feed a cold, starve a fever, or the other way around, I can never remember?"
Does it matter if you get the rhyme wrong? A folk remedy that doesn't work doesn't work whether or not you say it right.
Zig Ziglar used to tell a story about a baseball team on a losing streak. On the road for a doubleheader, the team visited a town that was home to a famous faith healer. While the guys were warming up, the manager disappeared. He came back an hour later with a big handful of bats. "Guys, these bats were blessed and healed by the guru. Our problems are over."
According to the story, the team snapped out of their streak and won a bunch of games. Some people wonder, "did the faith healer really touch the bats, or was the manager making it up?" Huh? Does it matter?
Mass marketers have traditionally abhorred measurement, preferring rules of thumb, casting calls and alchohol instead. Yet, there's no real correlation between how the ad was made and how well it works.
As the number of apparently significant digits in the data available to us goes up (traffic was up .1% yesterday!) we continually seek causation, even if we're looking in the wrong places. As the amount of data we get continues to increase, we need people who can help us turn that data into information.
It's important, I think, to understand when a placebo is helpful and when it's not. We shouldn't look to politicians to tell us whether or not the world is getting warmer (and what's causing it). They're not qualified or motivated to turn the data into information. We also shouldn't look to a fortune teller on the corner to read our x-rays or our blood tests.
Proofiness is a tricky thing. Data is not information, and confusing numbers with truth can help you make some bad decisions.