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Monday, September 3, 2012

Grasping Statistics


Noting that "A practical understanding of probability and statistics at an advanced, at least college, level is increasingly important in the modern world," John McGowan offers a great little primer on such matters here:

http://math-blog.com/2012/09/02/how-to-hang-yourself-with-statistics/

He briefly brings drug-testing, global-warming, derivative-based securities, and autism into the discussion, and notes that "By far the greatest and most common problem with using probability and statistics in the real world lies in the definition of terms, categories, and measured values," finally closing out thusly:
"In public policy debates, scientific controversies, and other real-world applications of probability and statistics issues about how the data were collected, how the terms and values are measured and defined, and what the categories used actually mean often take center stage and are the subject both of bitter controversy and simple confusion. It often requires extensive research to resolve these issues; often they are not resolved, certainly to the satisfaction of all.

Conclusion

"A good understanding of probability and statistics is increasingly necessary in the modern world. There are many ways to misuse probability and statistics, both intentionally and by accident. One should almost never take a statistic at face value, especially when powerful vested interests are at stake. The best course of action is to examine the data and the analysis of the data carefully. Unfortunately, this is often time consuming, but there is no substitute for important issues."
 ...well, there is a substitute... it's called ignorance or gullibility!


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