Random statistics

28 Aug
When I was growing up, my most hated — and worst, except perhaps phys. ed — subject in school was math.  My mother loved it and always tried to encourage us to do well.  I remember having to do flash cards and learning multiplication tables.  Oh, how I loathed it!
It was therefore a great surprise to me when I discovered in university that I loved statistics.  I have even considered (not too seriously) doing a second degree in stats, since I wanted to work in marketing and marketing research.  However, all that is in the long ago and I haven’t really thought about stats in years.
Michael and I had an argument today about the definition of a random sample; it all started out innocently enough with a question about confidence levels in a survey.  This led me to the Internet to look for definitions to prove my case.  Once again I was immersed in the wonderful world of statistics.  How can you not love this story (from Wikipedia)?
"A famous case of what can go wrong when using a biased sample is found in the 1936 US presidential election polls. The Literary Digest held a poll that forecast that Alfred M. Landon would defeat Franklin Delano Roosevelt by 57% to 43%. George Gallup, using a much smaller sample (300,000 rather than 2,000,000), predicted Roosevelt would win, and he was right. What went wrong with the Literary Digest poll? They had used lists of telephone and automobile owners to select their sample. In those days, these were luxuries, so their sample consisted mainly of middle- and upper-class citizens. These voted in majority for Landon, but the lower classes voted for Roosevelt. Because their sample was biased towards wealthier citizens, their result was incorrect."
Stats is so fun, that the word "random" has entered into the language as a term meaning "cool" or "neat".  (Thanks to Jenn for enlightening me and updating my old-fogey vocabulary.)
Anyway, it just prompts me to say, "Statistics are SO random!"

6 Responses to “Random statistics”

  1. Peter August 29, 2006 at 8:27 am #

    Do they have stats flash cards? Heck yes: http://www.flashcardexchange.com/flashcards/view/319575

  2. Unknown August 29, 2006 at 3:02 pm #

    Seems like your web stats research was similar to the fun I had researching names.  AND, both searches led us to Freakonomics quotes!  (Have you read that excellent most excellent book?
    I have to ask, Fawn! Is it "Stats is so fun" or "Stats are so fun" Enlighten me!

  3. Unknown August 29, 2006 at 3:06 pm #

    That last one was from me! For some reason it wouldn\’t let me add my name! Im glad to have now added not one but TWO comments to alleviate the dearth.  Hey, has msn changed so anyone can add comments??? That would be cool!

  4. Fawn August 29, 2006 at 4:54 pm #

    Nope – I had to sign in to add a comment.
    I wondered the same thing about stats "is" versus "are".  I guess I could cheat and put "the field of statistics is fun".  Peaeater, you\’re the resident bookish genius.  Is "stats is fun" (which seems so much more intuitive) acceptable grammarics?

  5. Fawn August 29, 2006 at 7:24 pm #

    Upon further cogitation, I have decided that "stats is cool" is appropriate when referring to the field of study, whereas "stats are cool" would refer to a bunch of actual statistics.
    Thanks, Lara. 😉

  6. Nemmy August 30, 2006 at 4:09 am #

    Sweeney and I used to "argue" about what was correct: maths or math. It is, after all, mathematics, I suppose…

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