The Moral Lessons of 'The Median Isn't The Message'

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About this sample

About this sample


Words: 673 |

Page: 1|

4 min read

Published: Mar 6, 2024

Words: 673|Page: 1|4 min read

Published: Mar 6, 2024

Table of contents

  1. The Folly of Averages and Medians
  2. A Message of Hope and Resilience
  3. Reassessing the Human Experience
  4. The Paradox of the Human Experience
  5. Conclusion

In his thought-provoking essay, 'The Median Isn't the Message,' renowned evolutionary biologist and paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould challenges the misleading notion that a diagnosis of median survival time equates to hopelessness. Through his personal experience with a terminal cancer diagnosis, Gould argues that averages and medians in statistics fail to capture the immense variation within individuals and the potential for positive outcomes. This essay seeks to explore Gould's arguments, uncover the moral lessons embedded within, and analyze their implications for our perception of hope and the human condition.

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The Folly of Averages and Medians

Gould passionately criticizes the conventional use of averages and medians when evaluating prognosis or success rates. He asserts that these statistical measures fail to acknowledge the wide range of possible outcomes for individuals. Drawing from his own experience, Gould defies the bleak prognosis attached to median survival time, highlighting the exceptional cases of individuals who live well beyond the predicted timeline.

This lesson holds broader significance beyond the realm of medical prognoses. Gould argues that our society is fixated on averages and medians, leading to a distorted perception of success. By focusing solely on the average student's grades or a company's average profits, we devalue the unique achievements and exceptional potential found in individuals. Gould's essay urges us to question our reliance on these measures and to prioritize the understanding of individual experiences and variations.

A Message of Hope and Resilience

Throughout his essay, Gould emphasizes the importance of embracing hope in the face of seemingly dire circumstances. He draws attention to the concept of nonlinearity, wherein small changes can yield significant effects. By challenging the notion that a median survival time predicts an inevitable outcome, Gould encourages individuals to maintain optimism and seize the opportunities available to them.

The concept of hope becomes particularly poignant when considering Gould's personal battle with cancer. Rather than succumbing to hopelessness, he refuses to define his identity solely by his diagnosis. Gould's courage and determination serve as an inspiration for individuals facing adversity, reminding them that statistics do not dictate their fate and that there is always the potential for positive outcomes.

Reassessing the Human Experience

Gould's essay pushes us to reevaluate our understanding of the human condition. By challenging the traditional emphasis on average experiences, he calls for an appreciation of diversity and individuality. This lesson extends beyond medical contexts and permeates throughout various aspects of life.

When we place undue importance on averages, we overlook the significance and potential of exceptional individuals. By recognizing and fostering individual talents, strengths, and capacities, we enrich society as a whole. Gould's essay serves as a powerful reminder that our collective progress depends on embracing and celebrating the unique contributions of every individual.

The Paradox of the Human Experience

Gould's essay presents us with a paradoxical question: Does our innate desire to measure and categorize undermine our capacity for empathy and understanding?

While averages and medians offer a sense of order and comprehensibility, they can also lead to a form of reductionism that simplifies the complexity of human experiences. Gould argues that by reducing individuals to statistical markers, we risk dehumanizing them and losing sight of their inherent worth and potential.

To fulfill our moral obligations as a society, we must challenge this reductionist mindset and recognize the intrinsic value of every individual. By doing so, we acknowledge that the human experience defies simplistic categorizations and that hope and resilience can transcend statistical predictions.


Gould's essay 'The Median Isn't the Message' presents a profound critique of the societal reliance on averages and medians. Through personal anecdotes and persuasive arguments, he encourages us to reevaluate our perception of hope and success. By embracing individual experiences, fostering hope in the face of adversity, and challenging reductionist thinking, we can create a more compassionate and inclusive society.

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Gould's moral lessons remind us that human experiences are far more nuanced and complex than statistics suggest. By recognizing and valuing the unique potential within each individual, we enrich our collective human experience. Ultimately, 'The Median Isn't the Message' calls us to reorient our moral compass and prioritize empathy, understanding, and the cultivation of hope.

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Alex Wood

Cite this Essay

The Moral Lessons of ‘The Median Isn’t the Message’. (2024, March 06). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 21, 2024, from
“The Moral Lessons of ‘The Median Isn’t the Message’.” GradesFixer, 06 Mar. 2024,
The Moral Lessons of ‘The Median Isn’t the Message’. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 21 Jun. 2024].
The Moral Lessons of ‘The Median Isn’t the Message’ [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2024 Mar 06 [cited 2024 Jun 21]. Available from:
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