Stories lie but numbers don’t, goes the adage. However, evolution has wired the human brain in such a way that our neural machinery isn’t optimized to have an intuitive feeling for numbers. As a result, numbers mislead us. Sometimes in shocking ways.
Lives have been destroyed because of wrong interpretation of numbers.
In the early days of HIV testing, twenty-two blood donors in Florida (USA) were notified that they had tested HIV-positive on the ELISA (a preliminary test); seven of them committed suicide. Unfortunately, they were unaware of the frequency of false positives in ELISA. The Internet is brimming with stories of people who were unnecessarily subjected to extreme stress and misery because they were not aware of the false positive HIV tests.
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