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Investigations into “folk physics” and “folk psychology” I’ve encountered.

But arguably the most egregious divergence between scientific discipline and common opinion has to be “folk statistics.” But this word pair doesn’t seem to be a thing. (I didn’t drill deeply into my recent keyword search, but the first few pages turned up nothing useful — if you know differently, please advise.)

It is not just popular discussions of risk and uncertainty that are infected by poorly understood statistical concepts. There is a deep fear of anything being labeled “abnormal,” as if normality were the most important thing in the world.

I accepted the bulk of my abnormalities at age 7; most of the rest by a decade later. So it can get a bit annoying to witness adults fret about whether or not they or someone the love might find themselves on the receiving end of a designation as abnormal. Oh, what a tragedy: you don’t fit in to the herd perfectly! You might be an individual.

My rule in discussing statistics with people is to assume “we’re all outliers here” and let it go at that. But that is just a decency, in most situations.

Folk statistics, as a research program, would have to research common misperceptions between whole and part, problems of getting decent samplings of relevant populations, the common misattribution of causation to correlated data, and the most basic statistical errors such as confusing the mean, the median, and modal examples. Surely a study of how folks engage in statistical thinking on the fly could present a fruitful way to develop an easy thesis. After all, the examples of folk physics and folk psychology are ready at hand, and the mostly unlearned population of American suckers (“one born every minute,” we are told) should make for a rich soil to till. And the possibility of emergent savvy, in the “wisdom of crowds,” could make the study even important.

But surely the biggest topic, lurking at every corner, would be the common fear of abnormality, and the common assumptions that falling into the “normal” category implies a norm in the prescriptive sense.

The researcher into this realm would have to learn to suppress the phrase “Oh, grow up.” The occasions to use it will be many.

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