Edited By Curt Dudley-Marling and Alex Gurn
4 Decentralizations and Redistributions: A Complex Reading of Normality - Brent Davis & Dennis Sumara 39
Not-Normal Distributions What’s the magnitude of an average earthquake? The wealth of an average person? The “size” of an average war? The population of an average com- munity? The connectivity of an average Internet hub? The impact of an average idea? On the surface, it might seem as though there are reasonable and accurate answers to at least some of these questions. But, in fact, none actually makes sense. On the matter of earthquakes, for instance, it turns out that minor tremors are so frequent and numerous that if they were to be pooled and averaged with more major events, a normal or representative quake would be imperceptible to unaided senses. Similarly, the statistic obtained by dividing all of the world’s capital by its human population is utterly meaningless—indeed, worse than meaningless, many have argued. Such a datum conceals the obscene wealth of a few and the intense poverty of so many. The same reasoning can be used to critique and discard con- structs such as average disputes, average cities, average hubs, and average ideas. Statisticians realized the impossibility of some of these constructs early on, recommending alternatives to the mean as a “measure of central tendency” for phenomena that have a skewed-from-normal distribution. For example, at ﬁrst glance, it would seem that the notion of median—the middle point when all of a set’s data are sequenced according to magnitude—would be useful to character- ize average wars and communities. Or perhaps the mode—the most frequently occurring...
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