Outlier.

This is another post about balance in my life that will probably reveal too much. I am an outlier. I am the 1% in one sense: I’m pretty sure of the people I know, I am in the 1% who is single (and in the 2% of people who have Ph.D.’s- which is supposedly good, though I’m still trying to figure out just why that’s the case). My explanation for this has traditionally been that there’s something really, really wrong with me; I’m a defective Homo sapiens. I’m the data point you just throw out it’s so far out there (yes, I’ve considered throwing myself out in the past). The last day or two, I’ve tried to come up with a statistical argument for why being such an outlier isn’t such a bad thing. The ‘you’re a human, have some compassion for yourself!’ argument doesn’t totally resonate with me. Though my statistical argument will come back to that. 

This may be a case where statistics aren’t that informative. Although not being single anymore is something I do want, I’m really trying hard to convince myself even if I don’t, it’s OK. There’s something I can contribute. I try to be a good friend. I donate blood when I can. I mentor and teach and basically try to be a decent person- I’m even doing my best to do good work (naturally). I know, I’m not the sunniest person ever, but if you get beyond my exterior and become a friend of mine, I will take a bullet for you- classic introvert…a few really close friends you’d do whatever you can for. So maybe the outlier statistic (which is undeniable) isn’t a real measure of everything- it’s not the whole story. I deviate from the mean in all sorts of ways (there are so many things I don’t get about social situations where most people I know seem to be naturals). So in one sense, I’m trying to cut myself a break. I am an outlier in that one aspect of my life, but that can change (I hope!- or maybe I should just not care, not caring will make it happen faster, right?). And I guess from my outlier status, I bring my own unique view to things that some people may appreciate. So I guess I’m coming to the ‘There’s lies, damned lies, and statistics’ idea. Stats and science may be (extremely) useful, but it’s never a complete picture and really defining the questions you ask is of paramount importance. And my life statistics only give me a partial sense of things. So it may not be a mathematical argument, but a lesson that statistics need to be applied carefully. Humans aren’t just numbers (or we are, but they’re so complex, no one person can hold and interpret all the data at once to make a coherent picture. 
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Author: Ian Street

Ian is a plant scientist and science writer relating stories of plant science and scientists on his blog, The Quiet Branches as well as other outlets. You can find him on Twitter @IHStreet.

2 thoughts on “Outlier.”

  1. Yeah, I saw this; And I'm trying to believe it….it sure doesn't seem true where I am. I do get the marriage bias in the US too…it exists. Married people get all sorts of benefits. Anyway, it doesn't make me not want a relationship any less; and I guess I can lean on my friends more. It just doesn't make it easy being the only single person amongst my current group of friends.

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