If you have taken any kind of statistics course or have a middle school education then the definitions of mode, median, and mean should be familiar. With the median being the middle value in a set of data, mode being the most recurring variable, and mean being he average. In Steven Jay Gould’s essay, The Median isn’t the Message he describes his experience as he faced a cancer diagnosis early in his life. He was told that his median mortality was eight months. Naturally our mind is fixated on the value, eight months. Believing that we will only have eight months to live. However, this is not the case, like the flipping of a switch, Gould’s rational mind returned to him. With that a rush of relief washed over him, why? Because, his knowledge of statistics helped ease his conscious where anyone else would believe their demise was imminent.
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This is the point that Gould really tries to hammer in, is that median and mean are not the same thing and entail completely different things. The median is the middle value of a set of data, not the average. In the article, Gould describes it as arranging a group of kids by height and the middle height child simply shorter or taller than half the kids (Gould 1985). Thus, if given a data set of mortality rates then one would find that the middle mortality was 8 months after diagnosis. Meaning that half of the population would survive less than 8 months and another half would survive longer than it. This alone allowed Gould to understand that he could have a fighting chance if he landed on the far-right side of the