Measuring the wrong thing

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There's nothing wrong with using measurements to prove something - as long as you're measuring the right thing - which is where the subjectivists and the measurementists often get off on the wrong foot.

Take for example, heart attacks. If you suffer cardiac arrest, you're dead within moments. Right? Stopped heart = stopped life. Turns out that's not necessarily true. Scandinavian scientists have discovered packing a person's head in ice after cardiac arrest buys them time, and lots of it. In fact, they may not even perform CPR on them. We die not directly from the stopped heart, but from brain failure. In other words, when the heart stops the brain fails: one is the cause, the other the result.

When your heart stops pumping, blood to the brain stops flowing, calcium floods in, and your brain cells die. Pack it in ice, calcium does not flow, and you can survive without a heartbeat for quite a long time without damage. It's why people falling into frozen lakes can sometimes be revived after even a few hours. We don't die from cardiac arrest, we die from the brain not getting blood (because of the heart failure). So measuring a person's pulse tells us not the whole story, but a clue as to the outcome -which can be changed.

The point of all this is not to carry a bucket of ice if you're prone to heart attacks. But rather to point out the fallacy of believing a limited set of measurements. Before our recent understanding of brain cell death, we could say with certainty that heart failure = death. Today that same measurement is not accurate. Wrong conclusion based on accurate measurement.

We have many means of measurement: our senses and our machines. Let's be cautious in our proclamations based on our measurements.

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Paul McGowan

Founder & CEO

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