28 January 2013

Make journalists learn statistics

All journalists should be required to pass a course in basic statistics before they are let loose on the unsuspecting public. I am not talking about the kind of statistics course that mathematical statisticians are talking about. This does not involve calculus, R or anything tricky requiring a post-graduate degree. I am talking about a statistics course for citizens. And journalists. 🙂 I have thought about this for some years. My father was a journalist, and fairly innumerate unless there was a dollar sign involved. But he was of the old school, who worked their way up the ranks. These […]
22 May 2012

Significance

In statistical analysis the word “significant” means that there is evidence that effect found in the sample exists in the population from which the sample was drawn. The choice of the word “significant” is unfortunate, as it is used to mean something different in common language. Reporters hear a scientist say that there is a significant effect, and tend to think big. Results gets reported as significant, meaning big, and we have effect inflation. In reality, if we take a large enough sample, even a small effect will show up as significant. Because the sample is large, it is easier […]
15 March 2012

Seductive Causation

Causation is a seductive notion. We want to make meaning out of our world. I love playing “the beeping nose” with little children. I press their nose and it beeps. I press my nose and it whirrs. It fascinates them. They have discovered cause and effect. They can make cool sounds by pressing noses. You can keep them amused for quite some time. Cause and effect implies control. If we know what causes things we are better able to control them. Scientific endeavor is largely a search for causes. History is littered with examples of misplaced cause and effect theories. […]