| "Why humans are 3 feet tall" and other interesting misconceptions |

From HackerNews front page on 2018-11-01:

a post citing an article from Artsy about why \"Pencils are yellow\" is on the front page today.

A classic example where a conclusion was drawn from limited data and an explanation was provided for the said conclusion without citing or checking the applicability of either.

Erroneous conclusion: Pencils are yellow. At least generally.

\\` As pointed out in numerous replies to the post (and personal experience), people from different regions have different notions about default colors of pencils.

For me, it has always been red and black stripes, thanks to Natraj Co. \\`

Surprisingly, the red-black color combo is not even unique to India. Users from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, UK, Switzerland and other regions also reported same default colors.

Of course, a variety of other color schemes from different regions around the world were reported.

An explanation was provided for the phenomenon

I do not have any issues with the explanation provided - I liked the story but have not checked its veracity though. But the overly-broad and hence erroneous conclusion it is trying to support reduces its credibility.

Applicability of the proclaimed hypothesis was not specified.

The only concession about the generality of the claim was the below cursory remark by the author:

Of course, not all pencils today are painted yellow. Many are the color of a company logo or a university sports team or, in the case of the mechanical pencil, not painted at all. But the pencil as we conceive of it, the pencil of a Google image search or an elementary school memory, is—because of the marketing genius of 19th-century pencil manufacturers—yellow.

And even in here are the assumptions that the elementary school memory is valid for all the readers. Or that the Google image search results are uniform for all users.

Why does it matter

It matters because this encourages shoddy reasoning.

Unless we are careful in generalizing, it might not be a very long journey from \"why pencils are yellow\" to \"why women are whiny\" to \"why Jews are stingy\" or \"why Muslims are violent\".

You do not need this article to tell you that of course some the above generalizations do exist - with explanations more colorful than those for yellow pencils, no less.

We call such generalizations as stereotypes. And stereotypes are almost never good. I hope we can agree on that.

About stereotypes

I think stereotypes are not ever going away anywhere because they serve as a handy approach to reduce the computational overload of our brains.

Think of them as analogues of brands - only murkier.

Organizations spend billions of dollars in branding so that they can craft an identity in the consumers\' minds that when they think of a brand, they associate certain attributes to it.

Stereotyping is similar but something we do to ourselves. But that\'s another topic for another day.


At the end of the day, we are all guilty of making such broad generalizations at one point or other.

The only thing we can do is to recognize and correct such mistakes before these morph into stereotypes held by us and start clouding our thinking.