Thursday, October 18, 2012

Evil monkey bars of death, destruction and kicked puppies...

I think it's finally happening.  I've seen the warning signs for a while now, a fondness for antique shows, a tendency to scold drivers who go even a kilometre over the speed limit, a desire to say things like "When I was young" and "Back in my day".  Yeah, I can't avoid the awful truth any longer.

I'm getting old.

But I think this really hit home when I was reading this article, an editorial written by a father whose darling daughter had broken her arm falling off the monkey bars.  Of course, as you'd expect in this day and age, the article was mostly about whether monkey bars were tools of Satan, sent to us to break our children's bones and traumatise those who can't make it all the way across by making them feel inferior to all their little playmates.

Okay, fine, maybe that second bit is just me over identifying.  Bloody monkey bars, I never could navigate them.

So even though I'd have expect my response to be agreement, if only in retribution for the indignities suffered in my youth, there was something about the whole article that just irked me for some reason. Was it that I was turning into one of those people who is constantly bemoaning today's cotton wool generation?

No, that wasn't it.  In fact, when I considered it carefully I realised I had absolutely no opinion on monkey bars and the danger therein.  That's not what was getting stuck in my craw.

It was the math.

My father told me once that you shouldn't trust statistics because they're god damned liars.  Okay, he didn't use that exact phrase, but that's what he meant.  Statistics are the most useful, and the most useless form of mathematics out there.  You can make them say pretty much anything you want them to, if you know how to present them right.

And that's exactly what this fellow did.

In it he said that he asked a doctor at a children's hospital how many kids break their bones falling from monkey bars, and was given the answer of 15 to 20%.  Now, at first glance that seems like a ridiculously high percentage.  If that many kids are hurting themselves on those tools of the devil, then why don't we rip them out post haste?

But that's the thing, it wasn't 15 to 20% of kids, it was 15 to 20% of kids who break a bone do it on monkey bars.  That's a whole other kettle of fish!  That could be as few as one kid out of a total of five broken bones, or as many as two hundred out of a thousand.  The point is, we don't know because he didn't bother getting that information!

I work in a finance position, and I spend a good proportion of my day working with statistics, so I know how easy it is to twist them one way or the other, and that's just what happened here.  The statistics were presented in a way that supported his argument, and no doubt resulted in hordes of parents all carrying pitchforks and torches, pulling down monkey bars with their bare hands.

So I guess that's the answer then.  It's not that I'm getting old, it's just that I'm a math geek who can't stand people manipulating stats for their own benefit.

Damn, I was looking forward to yelling at kids to get off my lawn.

48 comments:

  1. I completely agree. Math is what statistics wants to be when they grow up. And, as they haven't grown up yet they are angry and choose to twist themselves into whatever position fills their fancy. For instance, I once heard flossing increases your life expectancy by two years. Um...how do you know exactly how long a person would have lived without flossing? And, someone who flosses likely makes other healthy choices too. It all seems made up to me. So, monkey bars here I come.

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    1. Statistics is like that friend who says things like "Buy that dress, it makes your hips look 80% better!" without explaining what they mean by better.

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  2. As a mother who spends inordinate amounts of time at the park watching kids on monkey bars, the ones who often take hard falls are children who climb to the top of them and then try to walk across, ignoring the pleas of other worried mothers who are paying attention while the responsible party (sitter, dad, etc.) texts on his phone. A blanket assessment? Yes. But that's been my experience.

    I'm fine with monkey bars. But don't get Joe started on those vintage metal spinny merry-go-round type park equipment. He's convinced those ARE Satan, citing one teensy weensy childhood injury that caused a slight hemorrhage and stay in the hospital. Worry wart.

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    1. I used to love those metal round-a-bouts! You could really get some speed on them if they were freshly oiled!

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  3. Haha, evil monkey bars. I hate when people only show one side of the story.

    I smacked the back of my head into the bar that you STAND on before you swing out on them and blacked out for a while when I was a kid...I'd still be all over them if I wasn't so tall, lol.

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    1. Wow, that's probably the only case of a monkey bar related injury that occurred WITHOUT actually going on the monkey bars!

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  4. my daughter broke her arm falling off monkey bars too. her doc told me that monkey bars are the single largest cause of broken bones in children.

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    1. That seemed to be what the doctor in the article was saying (actually, he said 15-20%, but still), but even so he didn't back it up with any hard data!

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  5. You are not really getting old until you find your self pointing to a McDonalds and saying, "I remember when that used to be a vegitable stand."

    Don't even get me started on statistics and "surveys have prooved." Not only were those broken bone statistics scewered, but still totally unbelievable. People just make up stuff. I would guess that it was an arbitrary number thrown out by a doctor who was really saying that it is not uncommon for him to find broken bones caused by falls from monkey bars. How many falls from monkey bars are really misreported cases of child abuse? Answer 8.6%...look it up.

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  6. ha ha ha - I think you can still yell at the kids to get off your lawn.

    My boys snowboard and mountain bike and I think this is more hazardous than monkey bars but I have no stats to back this.......

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    1. Oh good! I was really looking forward to that bit of getting old. That and the fact that you're allowed to have dinner at 4 in the afternoon.

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  7. That's funny. I don't like that either, and I'm not a math geek at all, not at all.

    Your fishing story was so cute. Really? Fish in your swimming pool? hahahaha.

    It's been a long time since I've seen your posts. Blogger doesn't show every post, I don't think.

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    1. That's weird! I do one every two days, they should be showing up. But then Blogger can be a cruel, cruel bitch when she wants to be.

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  8. Pokey is pretty good with the monkey bars. My little monkey! But they are pretty evil! :)

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    1. I suppose it's only to be expected that Pokey would be good on those things :D

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  9. That's funny. Unfortunately my son was one of those kids who did break his arm falling off the monkey bars and he wasn't even all the way to the top.

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    1. There do seem to be a lot of comments from people saying their kids broke bones on monkey bars, so maybe the stats in the article weren't so far off ... but I still think the lack of hard data was abysmal! Abysmal, I tell you!

      Sorry, mathematical indignation. It happens from time to time.

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  10. Bravo, Math Geek. I have had more than one rant about statistics and how people should pay zero attention to them in most cases. When you yell at the kids to get off the lawn, don't forget to tell them to turn down that crap they call music. Oh wait, they probably won't have a boom box. Never mind.

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    1. "Back in my day, dag nabit, they played real music! They sang about liking big butts and wanting to talk about sex! And singers wore parachute pants or bubble skirts!"

      Oh yeah, I'm totally on board!

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  11. But remember 100% of the 75-80% of kids that haven't broken any bones, haven't broken a bone while playing on the monkey bars. Case closed.

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    1. And just keep in mind, 87% of statistics are made up on the spot.

      Didya see what I did there? Didya?

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  12. Indeed statistics can be twisted, tweeked and manipulated.
    PS: I never did well on the damn monkey bars either....

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    1. Bloody monkey bars! I would always get on the first rung, hang there for a few seconds, then fall to the ground. I never could work out how anyone could do it!

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  13. Well I'm getting old, for sure, but I have nothing against monkey bars at all :) I think children need some freedom and even doses of 'danger' as part of the fun and adventure of childhood.. A broken bone is not the end of the world; there are certainly worse things, and I was always so paranoid about protecting our children from the 'worse things' that I was happy to let them have some freedom in areas where a bit of physical injury was the worst that could happen! Does that sound strange? I was a casualty nurse in a children's hospital and felt like I could handle a broken bone or two :)

    Have you read 'Freakonomics' and 'SuperFreakonomics'? Good books if you like statistics (and I find I do! :)

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    1. I haven't read it, but I'll have to see if I can hunt out a copy!

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  14. Statistics make me huddle in a corner while rocking back and forth. Also monkey bars are clearly designed for people with superhuman grip.

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    1. I can sympathise. Reality shows make me huddle and rock.

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  15. I was never any good on the monkey bars either. So much shame.

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    1. It was a mark of failure in primary, wasn't it. If you couldn't traverse the monkey bars, you'd better make damned sure you could play handball well, otherwise your primary years were going to be hell!

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  16. Statistics may lie or may be accurate. If only parents watched children and be protective.

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    1. That's true, it's hard to tell whether the stats in this are accurate seeing as it's missing any solid data.

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  17. Is it really a "statistic" if the hyper-reactionary dad just asked some random doctor her opinion and the doctor, just guessing with no empirical evidence just shrugs off the question with some nonsense number she retrieved from her anus? If it wasn't the monkey bars, it would be a tree. Statistically, kids break bones because they aren't smart and learn from experience. 60% of the time, it works every time.

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    1. Exactly! It's just because it was presented as a statistic that made it look so "official" and "scientific". It'd be more accurate to say that 54% of kids who break bones on monkey bars do it because they're parents aren't paying close enough attention.

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  18. This is so funny...I just did a post about how a jungle gym incident turned out badly for me!

    I agree with you wholeheartedly. My other, similar pet peeve is when people quote a study, drawing a conclusion from the study that is not causal, because they don't account for all of the other factors. It definitely is true, you can make statistics and studies say whatever you want them to say.

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    1. That's what I remind myself every time I read some horrible news article about how the human race is just awful. Most of those articles, if I look closer, have some pretty questionable statistics in them.

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  19. Great post. My daughter is the monkey bar queen. There was this determination in her 5year old self which was sparked the day she face her first monkey bars at school. With in a week she had mastered them & was doing tricks. I think it took that long because she had to build those tiny little arm muscles. I'd rather she broke her arm trying, than sitting on the sidelines scared or just being "pretty". ha ha ha *

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    1. I was always so jealous of those kids who could swing around on the bars like acrobats. I was the kid who couldn't even do a somersalt on the ground without freaking out. Gymnastics was NOT my forte.

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  20. Brilliant! Yes! I totally agree! One must really filter these things and question them and go 'Wait a minute - that doesn't add up' because jumping on the statistic waving band wagon.

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    1. I guess it's a life lesson, just because it's in print doesn't make it true. It's so easy to get lazy and just trust what people feed us.

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  21. lol I love a good monkey bar whinge! I'm a kids nurse so I CONSTANTLY see broken somethings from monkey bars! And I could totally never get all the way over them when I was a kid either lol ;)

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    1. I was always more of a round-a-bout girl myself. I loves those things, the closest thing to flying you could get if you could get the speed up!

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  22. I love the title of this piece. I also love thinking about the monkey bars being the tool of satan. That is just good, kind of very hilarious, writing. Eventually playgrounds will just be patches of atificial grass because real grass will be too dangerous. Good grief. Accidents happen sometimes. Life is not risk free...at least not one worth living.

    Thanks for pointing out the math and the terrible conclusions brought about by misused statistics. Go math! Glad you are such a geek and getting old...I can relate. Also, I think you're pretty cool and smart and an incredible writer.

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    1. Thank you! Aww shucks, you're making me blush!

      I've always had a bit of a thing against statistics, ever since I was in school and learned that a coin toss can have two different percentage chances based on if you're looking at its history or not. I've never trusted them since!

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  23. I was once stuck at the top of the monkey bars for over an hour before a friend had to help me down by letting me fall on her. Monkey bars almost stole my virginity. Ok, maybe not. But they are still EVIL!

    Hugs!

    Valerie

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    1. See, that's why you shouldn't trust monkey bars! They tell you pretty lies, convince you that they love you, but they only want one thing.

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  24. I love this. My son broke his arm on a monkey bar and the next week the other kid broke one falling off a slide. The dr said most breaks come from trampolines and monkey bars. I have had a trampoline in my backyard for years, and nothing. It is all about the way you fall, if people would teach kids how to fall off their bike, monkey bars, etc they could be fine. That was the lesson the next day and no broken bones since..It is better to skin your knee than break your arm and btw don't act like a dumbass on them and chances are you will come out unscathed.
    I think I am old too because I am not worried, my kids still do stuff like climb trees and monkey bars and I don't see the harm. I think the numbers are a bunch of bullshit put out there by over zealous parents and people who build new age playgrounds scaring over achieving parents into submission...

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    1. I always laugh when I remember when we were kids. If you skinned your knee, you got a bandaid and sent back out to play. If you fell off something, you got scolded and told to be more careful. I don't think our parents would have dreamed of blaming the equipment.

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