Saturday, January 08, 2011

The way we process information

Dr Peter Rhee, speaking at the press conference on the Gabby Giffords shooting said
We received ten patients, of whom one died. Five patients are in critical condition, and five are in surgery.
The CNN anchor - and my friend - both thought something was wrong. "That's more than ten," said my friend, and the anchor said, "That's eleven - obviously he wasn't counting the one who died."

I find that fascinating, because I didn't have that reaction. To me it was clear that the two groups of five weren't mutually exclusive. Someone (or more) who was in surgery was also in critical condition. But obviously others felt that he had to be reporting separate categories, with no overlap, and they found themselves trying to reconcile 1 + 5 + 5 = 10.



At 11:06 AM, January 09, 2011 Blogger Barry Leiba had this to say...

I think it's the way they're linked. The "and" conjunction makes me, as your friend and the CNN anchor, think they're disjoint groups. If I said, "I have two brothers who like Chinese food and one who owns a boat," can you really tell me that you'd not think I had three brothers?

In the case of the hospital patients, you have to assume that either one of the numbers is wrong or you interpreted it wrong. Given the quality of reporting, it seems most of us are going for the former.

And I'm willing to bet that you first interpreted the sentence as we did, and then, realizing that it didn't work, took the second approach, where we took the first.

At 11:28 AM, January 09, 2011 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

Yes - but you wouldn't have started with "I have two brothers". This doctor started with "We received ten patients." That meant (to me) - since I assumed he knew what he was saying - that somehow his numbers added to ten.

It's possible it took me a moment to interpret, but I don't recall having to do so. I DO recall notcing the anchorman's comment and thinking that he wasn't thinking clearly.

At 3:27 PM, January 12, 2011 Blogger HRH had this to say...

Most likely due to the ubiquity (for the lack of better word) of this case at the moment, I suspect that Dr Rhee made public statement containing gross mistake such as 5+5+1=10. I have to interpret the statement as “five people are in critical condition, and those five are in surgery”. However, if the total were over 10, we wouldn’t have this bifurcated opinion. Some audience innocuously would assume the two “fives” were mutually exclusive and some not. Perhaps, he should have added a definite article “the” before the “and”, and his statement wouldn’t appear inane or nonsensical with counting error to some listeners.

At 4:55 PM, January 12, 2011 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

@HRH: Although you couldn't know it if my post is your only source, your interpretation is not possible. He began by stating that the congresswoman was not deceased, though in critical condition, and proceeded to say that she was out of surgery. So clearly not all the critical patients were in surgery.

It's also quite possible to be in surgery while not in critical condition, and as the press conference was some five hours after the shooting, it's more than likely they were on their second set of surgeries.

I think his statement was accurate, but for some reason most people prefer to think he made a mistake. I agree his statement wasn't phrased in the usual way, but when it's so simple to make the numbers right, I find it fascinating that people prefer him to have made an error.

At 6:58 AM, January 13, 2011 Blogger HRH had this to say...

>> ……your interpretation is not possible.
I re-read my post, one thing I notice, instead of “Suspect”, I should have said, “I highly doubted” or “I doubted”, in order to make it more clear that there were no mistakes. But aren’t we (you and I) saying the same thing? That, “there were no mistakes” and that “five people were in critical condition and the same five people were in surgery”?


At 8:51 AM, February 25, 2011 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

No, we're not. Because at least one critical patient (the congresswoman) was clearly not in surgery.

You seem to be saying that he said 10 patients when he meant 11. I'm saying that patients in surgery and patients in critical condition need not add to 10. He got 10 patients; 1 died; of the remaining 9, 5 are in critical condition (and at least 1 is NOT in surgery), and also of that 9, 5 are in surgery.


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