Anecdotes are Not Science – 7 Takeaways for June 27, 2021

Fire-devastated trees.

1. “You have a moral responsibility to do what you do best.”

An Indomitable Will – Mark Manson – (Mindf*ck Monday newsletter)

The takeaway is actually a paraphrase of something said by Will Smith:

I’m world-class at only a couple of things. And every hour I’m not doing those things, I am doing a disservice to myself and the world. There are people out there who are world-class at other things—cooking, marketing, writing, whatever—and for me to not hire them and support what they do, also does a disservice to the world.

It’s a fascinating perspective. With great talent comes great responsibility.

Do this: Do more of what you’re good at.

2. “Recognize the difference between well-meaning but inadequate actions and straight up malicious intent.”

The Profile: The founder unlocking the secrets of your mind & Twitter’s power broker – Polina Marinova Pompliano – (The Profile, newsletter)

The preface to this issue of The Profile is titled “The Best Advice My Dad Gave Me About Life, Work, and Relationships”. The takeaway summarizes only half of it.

Pompliano compares it to Hanlon’s Razor: “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by neglect or ignorance.” (That’s a nicer version than the one I use, which replaces “neglect or ignorance” with “stupidity”.) It’s a valuable rule to live by, and lets you sidestep many, many anxiety-inducing scenarios, typically by not taking them personally.

The other half, though, is equally valuable: “The best advice my dad has ever given me is to approach my life, my work, and my relationships with good intent.” It seems obvious (I mean, who wouldn’t?) but being consciously intentional about it makes a surprising difference.

Do this: Apply Hanlon’s Razor. Often. It’s almost always accurate.

3. “Just because something can be done doesn’t mean it will be done”

Smashing Security Episode 233 – Roger Grimes (guest interview) – (podcast)

I don’t often quote podcasts here — honestly, it takes a little too much effort to get a transcription. And I almost never pay attention to the “after-the-podcast” interview with a representative of one of the podcast sponsors — I always assume it’s effectively “paid placement” and not always objective content. This week’s episode, however, caught my attention. The full quote that is my takeaway:

Just because something can be done doesn’t mean it will be done and understanding the difference between what could happen and what is likely to happen is the difference between an okay risk manager and computer security person and a good to great computer security risk manager.

You know how there are RFID chips in some credit cards and that malicious actors might be able to “skim” your credentials as they simply walk by? Or remember the Spectre and Meltdown chip-level vulnerabilities that threatened to bypass any attempts to detect or prevent them? Do you know that there have been zero — ZERO — reports of either having been exploited in the wild? It’s been years. Instead, the number one vector for system compromise remains the same: social engineering and email attachments.

We fear most what we don’t understand. The stuff we do understand . . . well, “it won’t happen to me”. Until it does. I hear this all the time.

Do this: manage your risks based on real theats that are likely. Not sure what those are? Find out.

4. “But did we decrease the amount of suffering in the world?”

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind – Yuval Noah Harari – (ebook)

I finished Sapiens this week. As I mentioned earlier it’s a long read, and a somewhat dense one.

It didn’t go where I thought it would. I was expecting what I guess I’d call a history book — a chronicle of events. Instead Harari delves into significantly more sociological and psychological topics as he muses on what Sapiens have become. He makes a strong argument that while much has changed in the last few thousand years, there’s a good chance we’re actually no happier. Factoring the additional suffering of other animals on the planet (a surprising take to me — most ignore this), there’s even a strong argument that there’s more suffering than when “we” started.

It made me think. I’m not sure it made me hopeful, however.

Do this: it’s a commitment, but I can recommend reading this book. There’s also a good summary by James Clear that might be enough, or might help you decide.

5. “last year’s thirsty trees are this year’s dead trees.”

Why This Drought Scientist Has Packed Her ‘Runaway Bag’ – Mike Pearl – (Daily Beast)

On one hand the article feels at first like sensationalist clickbait. On the other hand the topic it covers is real: the western US is in a long term drought. While I was expecting discussion of “water wars”, that some fear, the discussion took a turn to more probable topics like the fire danger (the reason for the “runaway bag”), and the social and economic impact of a sustained drought.

Do this: have a go bag or emergency kit. Emergency preparedness is important for several different reasons, and if this is what convinces you, great.

6. “Anecdotes are not science”

Anecdotes are not science – Seth Godin – (Blog)

In an uncharacteristically long (for him) blog post, Godin discusses science, placebos, hucksterism, and how when fake-science gets discredited all of science can be harmed.

By wearing the mantle of science, hypesters are not only able to charge more, but they also degrade the reputation of the very methods they purport to use–when we see firsthand that pretend science doesn’t work, we’re tempted to imagine that the same is true for interventions that are actually studied and tested.

As with so many of these takeaways, he’s managed to put in to words — clearer words than I would have been able to come up with — something that I already believed.

Do this: Be skeptical. Watch for hype. But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

7. “There are times when a father cannot explain why he abandoned his son.”

My Father Vanished When I Was 7. The Mystery Made Me Who I Am. – Nicholas Casey – (New York Times)

This is a longish, featured story (possibly behind a paywall) that I surprised myself by reading to its end. It’s a fascinating story of a young man growing up without a father, looking for that father and then (spoiler) finding him and in doing so learning that his own story might not be everything he’d imagined it to be. Perhaps the most compelling takeaways are how he then reconciles with reality.

Do this: I won’t say “read this” (though of course you can), but rather — consider how you reconcile yourself with the truth when it turns out not to be quite what you’d expected.

What I’m Reading

In progress (also on GoodReads):


1 thought on “Anecdotes are Not Science – 7 Takeaways for June 27, 2021”

  1. I’m so glad you’re doing this! I’m never going to have a chance to read all of these bits I”m bookmarking, but your takeaways are doing what you want: making me think. (I also appreciate your sectioned reading list.)
    Thanks and keep up the good works!


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