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Remedial Statistics

Does anyone care about wrong answers

I just finished entering “2 cups of milk” as my day-three breakfast on a tracking-based lifestyle app that shall remain nameless. It is a well-respected, leading app and was recommended by an experienced personal trainer.

Much to my surprise, it complimented my positive pattern of drinking milk in that having milk for breakfast was positively correlated with my having fewer calories for the day.

We’ve noticed that on days your incorporate milk, you tend to keep your total calories lower.

It’s pretty aggressive to report a correlation with only two data points. It could just as easily make such a statement about anything that was different about the two days.

However, the only thing that was the same between the two days was my having milk for breakfast.

We need several separate errors for the program to give this wrong advice.

For years I’ve been saying that with most apps and websites, we can just reboot, and hence that reliability and such weren’t as crucial in the way they are with autopilots or controllers for the power grid.

Maybe I was wrong. Poor lifestyle choices in diet and exercise are among the leading causes of premature death and overall poor health in our country. Giving wrong advice to people trying to do better might be causing more deaths than an occasional plane crash would.

How much wrong advice is it dispensing

Does/should the app company have responsibility or liability for giving wrong advice? How would a proper testing and quality assurance program prevent this?

How much wrong advice is it dispensing? How much worse can it do when it has more than two data points to become confused with?

The world may never know.

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One Comment

  1. I find it highly concerning, that there is little to no oversight or regulation. I think it’s time to change that. Once the first lawsuit is filled, the industry will have to do better.

Written by Russell Brand

Russell has started three successful companies, one of which helped agencies of the federal government become very early adopters of open source software, long before that term was coined. His first project saved The American taxpayer 250 million dollars. In his work within federal agency, he was often called, “the arbiter of truth,” facilitating historically hostile groups and factions to effectively work together towards common goals


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