11 January 2017

Why people hate statistics

This summer/Christmas break it has been my pleasure to help a young woman who is struggling with statistics, and it has prompted me to ask people who teach postgraduate statistical methods – WTF are you doing? Louise (name changed) is a bright, hard-working young woman, who has finished an undergraduate degree at a prestigious university and is now doing a Masters degree at a different prestigious university, which is a long way from where I live and will remain nameless. I have been working through her lecture slides, past and future and attempting to develop in her some confidence that she […]
25 June 2014

It is so random! Or is it? The meaning of randomness

The concept of “random” is a tough one. First there is the problem of lexical ambiguity. There are colloquial meanings for random that don’t totally tie in with the technical or domain-specific meanings for random. Then there is the fact that people can’t actually be random. Then there is the problem of equal chance vs displaying a long-term distribution. And there is the problem that there are several conflicting ideas associated with the word “random”. In this post I will look at these issues, and ask some questions about how we can better teach students about randomness and random sampling. […]
2 September 2013

Open Letter to Khan Academy about Basic Probability

Khan academy probability videos and exercises aren’t good either Dear Mr Khan You have created an amazing resource that thousands of people all over the world get a lot of help from. Well done. Some of your materials are not very good, though, so I am writing this open letter in the hope that it might make some difference. Like many others, I believe that something as popular as Khan Academy will benefit from constructive criticism. I fear that the reason that so many people like your mathematics videos so much is not because the videos are good, but because […]
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 […]
16 April 2012

Hey mathematics – leave the stats alone!

Mathematicians love mathematics. They love the elegance and the purity and the abstract nature of it all. Consequently they think there is something not quite nice about the practical real life messiness of statistics. Now this is fine, so long as they keep their prejudices away from their students! I recently met a high school maths teacher who was completely vocal about her dislike for statistics. Fortunately she doesn’t teach the final year statistics course, but she can’t avoid the sections of statistics all through the curriculum at lower levels. It hurt me to hear statistics so disliked. Elementary school-teachers […]
30 March 2012

Operations Research and Statistics: BFF

As they say on Twitter: That silence after you tell someone you teach Operations Research (or Statistics). Those in the OR and Statistics communities know what conversation stoppers our disciplines are. When asked what subject I teach I take a punt and respond with “Operations Research”, “Management Science” or “Statistics”. “Operations Research” is met with incomprehension, “Management Science” with miscomprehension, and “Statistics” with thinly disguised antipathy. Apart from being undervalued, what the disciplines have in common is that we do practical stuff with numbers. The pedagogies of these disciplines have much in common. Operations Research and Management Science (which for […]
27 March 2012

Teaching statistical language

I received a phone call from the company that leases us our equipment. I got quite excited when the salesman told me they would waive the purchase price of a new iPad. Then I decided it was time to clarify things. “Ok,” I said, “You are using the term ‘purchase price’. To me that means the amount you pay for something when you buy it. You are telling me that if I get a new iPad on the same lease as the old iPad you will waive the purchase price. This sounds great to me, but I can’t imagine I’ve […]