Statisticians are crystal clear on human variation. They know that not everyone is the same. When they speak about groups in general terms, they know that they are reducing N-dimensional reality to a 1-dimensional single parameter.
Nevertheless, statisticians permit, in their regression models, variables that only take on one value, such as
No one doing this believes that all such people are the same. And anyone who’s done the least bit of data cleaning knows that there will be
NA's, wrongly coded cases, mistaken observations, ill-defined measures, and aberrances of other kinds. It can still be convenient to use binary or n-ary dummies to speak simply. Maybe the marriages of some people coded as
currently married are on the rocks, and therefore they are more like
divorced—or like a new category of people in the midst of watching their lives fall apart. Yes, we know. But what are you going to do—ask respondents to rate their marriage on a scale of one to ten? That would introduce false precision and model error, and might put respondents in such a strange mood that they answer other questions strangely. Better to just live with being wrong. Any statistician who uses the
cut function in R knows that the variable didn’t become basketed←continuous in reality. But a
facet_wrap plot is easier to interpret than a 3D wireframe or cloud-points plot.
To the precise mind, there’s a world of difference between saying
- "the mean height of men > the mean height of women", and saying
- "men are taller than women".
Of course one can interpret the second statement to be just a vaguer, simpler inflection of the first. But some people understand statements like the second to mean “each man is taller than each woman”. Or, perniciously, they take “Blacks have lower IQ than Whites” to mean “every Black is mentally inferior to every White.”
I want to live somewhere between pedantry and ignorance. We can give each other a break on the precision as long as the precise idea behind the words is mutually understood.
Dummyisation is different to stereotyping because:
- stereotypes deny variability in the group being discussed
- dummyisation acknowledges that it’s incorrect, before even starting
- stereotyping relies on familiar categories or groupings like skin colour
- dummyisation can be applied to any partitioning of a set, like based on height or even grouped at random
It’s the world of difference between taking on a hypotheticals for the purpose of reaching a valid conclusion, and bludgeoning someone who doesn’t accept your version of the facts.
So this is a word I want to coin (unless a better one already exists—does it?):
- dummyisation is assigning one value to a group or region
- for convenience of the present discussion,
- recognising fully that other groupings are possible
- and that, in reality, not everyone from the group is alike.
- Instead, we apply some ∞→1 function or operator on the truly variable, unknown, and variform distribution or manifold of reality, and talk about the results of that function.
- We do this knowing it’s technically wrong, as a (hopefully productive) way of mulling over the facts from different viewpoints.
In other words, dummyisation is purposely doing something wrong for the sake of discussion.