Skewed science

We’ve all had the request…friend of a friend’s daughter is doing a science project (it might be school, university, real-world) and we all jump in with our answers hoping to be helpful. The most recent one I saw popped up on Facebook and there were lots of “Done” comments and one that added “I hope I didn’t skew her data”.

It’s fine, it was banter, and I’m sure the commenter was simply alluding to their answers perhaps deviating from the norm more than anyone else’s (I bet they didn’t many of us imagine our lives to be far more weird than those of other people, but the truth is that most of us fit well within the bulk of the bell curve for most behaviour).

Regardless, skewed data should be what scientists hope for, whether they’re just starting out or they’re academic experts in the field. Results usually fit a bell curve and the average, the mean, the norm, all sit within that bell, they fit the data…it is the outliers, the data at the ends of the bell curve, whether at the left or the right extreme that can be the most interesting. The person who does or doesn’t do that thing a thousand times more frequently than the average person, what’s going on there? The rare result that is miles from the mean is the most intriguing…although it may well be only a single data point it can point to diversity in a theory that might open up entirely new understanding or even overturn the deceived wisdom.

The most interesting science comes not from the "Oh, thank goodness everything fits my theory", but from the "WTF? experiments"