Geronimo!

Movie buffs know that army paratroopers shout Geronimo! as they jump out of airplanes.

As the story goes, paratroopers do it because it’s what the famous Apache chief yelled when he bravely leaped his horse from a high cliff into the river below to evade the hot pursuit of the U.S. Cavalry.

This is unlikely for several reasons, among them being his name was actually Goyathlay.

A shocking new study has turned the parachuting world upside down.

In a randomized controlled trial, scientists concluded that jumping out of a plane with a parachute did not lower the death rates of test subjects compared to those who jumped without one.

The authors said “evidence supporting the efficacy of parachutes is weak and guideline recommendations for their use are principally based on biological plausibility and expert opinion.”

They explained that “Our groundbreaking study found no statistically significant difference in the primary outcome between the treatment and control groups. They went on to conclude that “our findings should give pause to experts who advocate for routine use of parachutes when jumping from airplanes.”

Have you got all that? 

The report, written by a team led by Dr. Robert W. Yeh, described in detail the study protocols, including “the use of primary efficacy analysis that summarized continuous variables by standard deviation and used Fisher’s exact test of categorical variables, T-distributions, and binary outcomes.”

You knew the plane was on the ground, right? 

You knew it because jumping from a plane is an activity we assume to be done from thousands of feet in the sky. Therefore, if our test plane was where we presumed it to be, those who jumped without parachutes would surely die.

You smelled something fishy, so you fact-checked your assumptions and sure enough, the test altitude of the plane from which everyone jumped was zero.

Now everyone gets it.

Instead of a real study of parachutes, this was an exercise designed to illustrate what happens when people skim study results without looking at the details. 

The study’s principal author said to properly assess the value of a study we have to understand the fine print. Easier said than done, sure, but here’s a pro tip: when presented with a study, take two minutes to look at the mechanics before getting worked up about the findings.

The greatest danger for decision-makers is when commissioned studies are deliberately designed to produce desired results, then costumed in the regalia of pseudoscience.

According to Smithsonian, this “study” had all the veneer of serious investigation. It dazzled readers with boatloads of scientific jargon, citations, a meticulous description of the researchers’ methodology, and lots of big-time statistics. 

Most are shocked to learn that this blind-‘em-temporarily strategy is used in most of the reports circulating through the information arteries of most successful companies.

The Boss asked me to read a report that reached his desk the day before. 

In it, study results showed that study subjects had given five-star, two-thumbs-up reviews to the proposed product line extension.

Presented with such powerful evidence, he was eager to approve the substantial investment. That is, until I showed him that the study subjects were all stout brand loyalists who loved everything the company made and there was not a shred of evidence to indicate how the market at large would react. 

You don’t have to go it alone anymore. Now you can hire a pro to look closely at the reports you’re seeing and the people who are providing them. Go to davidallanvan.com to see how you can learn how to avoid these and other misinformation traps.