Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Why you should call your kid 'Loser'
For someone who doesn't read books, I still managed to take in a few chapters of this great book on why things happen from a statistical point of view. The book, titled Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything is a great read, even though I haven't read the whole thing. A fundamental issue with most statistics is that they can lie! How many times have you heard that a recent survey discovered that coffee is good for you, and then see another survey discover how bad it is later? Unfortunately, too many people in our society take sureys and studies too seriously without thinking about other explainations for the perceived outcome. The statistics themselves don't lie, but often enough, the interpretation is often skewed to match the desired conclusion (Hopefully, you've figured out that the Smoking doesn't cause lung cancer studies sponsored by the tobacco companies are indeed false!). Before you believe any other study in your life, remember this phrase Correllation is not Causation. What does this mean? Well, just because you see two separate things happening together, it doesn't always mean that one caused the other to happen. Sometimes there is a third reason that something happens and those two incidents are the side effect. This concept is fundamental to every statistician in the world, yet oblivious to the general population. This book shows that to really understand the world, you really have to see it from all sorts of angles. Although nobody's perfect, a good statistician must test all possible factors to a situation before interpreting their outcomes. The book shows us how we really should be getting out studies from the 5 o'clock news, but never do.


Andy said...

The real pity about this whole argument is rather old. Simple statistics are insanely easy to understand, but are very susceptible to wrong conclusions because of their simplicity. Complicated studies are insanely difficult to understand and are difficult to verify. People like you and me, who went to college and have traveled the world...that's the top 1% of the world's population man. The majority of people want the simple answers, even with their innacuracies.

Anonymous said...

Wow, someone actually read my blog! Hehe. I know that people want simplicity in their lives. I know that they don't have time to follow up on every stat thrown in their face, but I'm hoping that someone (like perhaps our President) will look at a stat that really matters and say, "Hey, I think there's something wrong with this! Maybe we need to consider some other factors that may be at play here."