Telling Stories with Numbers
In his book Thinking Fast and Slow, the Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman explains how there are two systems in our brain. System 1 is the automatic part of our brain. This is the system that “thinks fast.” It allows us to fill in the gaps and turn random bits of information into a cohesive story. System 2 includes our cognitive functions that analyze and process information. Kahneman (2011) provides a few examples such as:
- Monitor the appropriateness of your behavior in a social situation.
- Tell someone your phone number.
- Fill out a tax form. (eBook, Location 358)
These actions require more effort and are examples of “thinking slow.”
One of Kahneman’s larger points is that how our brains are hard-wired make us biased toward stories over statistics. Without intentional effort, our System 1 gravitates to a story that makes sense rather than allowing System 2 to engage with the data to see if there is evidence to support such a story.
You don’t have to look very far to find examples of how this tendency is taken advantage of. The controversy about Facebook and how personal data was used by firms like Cambridge Analytica take the power of data to tell a story that influences human behavior. Our brains are hardwired to fall for plausible stories – and many nations around the globe are wrestling with the consequences it can have for democracies.
As interpreter educators, we are not immune to the biases of System 1. Personally, I know that I much prefer a good story to a spreadsheet. Yet as I have been thinking more about assessment and evaluation, I realize how important it is for us to become comfortable with the ways that spreadsheets can help us build a story that is based on statistical evidence, rather than solely in our intuition and impressions.
So, this issue, I am delving into Spreadsheets and share a few tips for working with GoogleSheets. For an example, I am using the EIPA Rating Form, because it is a commonly used form that is publicly shared by the EIPA creators. These same techniques can be used with other assessments.
Note that there are two sheets which you can access from the tabs at the bottom. If you are more comfortable with Excel, you can also download the GoogleSheet as an Excel spreadsheet. Below the example form is a tutorial for how to do a variety of tasks in GoogleSheets.
Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.