The United States recently reached a negative COVID-19 milestone – more than 1 Million deaths. I started to think about writing this blog post last December when the count was ‘only’ 800,000. How do we understand, appreciate and communicate large numbers?Continue reading “Magnitude and context”
Can Moneyball save the unicorn?
The answer is no, but Moneyball might be a nudge in the right direction. I was born and live in Greenland where unicorns (also known as narwhals) roam beneath the waves. In most other cultures, unicorns are horsy creatures who roam somewhere over the rainbow. In western cultures (as defined by those who read Harry Potter) killing a unicorn is an unspeakably evil deed. It used to be different, at least for the sea creature.Continue reading “Can Moneyball save the unicorn?”
Dangers of combining averages
Misinterpreting statistics is not a rare phenomenon and happens everywhere in the world. Very often it happens by the use of averages, as many understand statistics as the “science of averages,” but also with use of percentages, indices and other statistics.Continue reading “Dangers of combining averages”
Last September, in my efforts to recover from a knee injury, I hired a personal trainer. When we made the original plan, it ended on 31 December 2021 and he added the slogan “New Year, New You” to the plan. It’s the new year and, thankfully, big progress. I just committed for another three months and I’m really looking forward to every single upcoming workout. It’s fun! However, like many new things, there are new insights and … surprise surprise, some are statistical.Continue reading “Significant fitness”
What is the use of lots of data when we don’t know what they mean?
There are lots of sources for data on Covid-19. Many of them just take data from government or hospital sources, and let you compare them however you want to. Others are a little more careful. Financial Times data journalists outline some of the problems:
Continue reading “What is the use of lots of data when we don’t know what they mean?”
Comparing the spread of coronavirus in different countries is difficult using the data being released by governments. Confirmed case counts depend heavily on the extent of countries’ very different testing regimes, so higher totals may simply reflect more testing.
Deaths are somewhat more reliable, but remain problematic because countries have different rules for what deaths to include in their official numbers.
How typical is a “median person”?
Last week, references to a “median person” showed up enough times in my life to spur me to write this post. I think the use of an “average person” is still more popular, but this “median person” seems to be gaining popularity too. Regardless, as attached to a person, the concept is essentially the same – it’s an appealing way to take a collection of averages (or medians) calculated for each of many measured characteristics and conceptually construct a new individual, as least hypothetically. The question that doesn’t get asked enough — Who, if anyone, does an individual constructed in this way actually “look” like?Continue reading “How typical is a “median person”?”
Can ‘regression to the mean’ explain the ‘Dunning-Kruger effect’?
The title of this post is the question behind a news article, “The Dunning-Kruger Effect is Probably Not Real,” by Jonathan Jarry, sent to me by Herman Carstens. Jarry’s article is interesting, but I don’t like its title because I don’t like the framing of this sort of effect as “real” or “not real.” I think that all these sorts of effects are real, but they vary: sometimes the effects are large, sometimes they’re small, sometimes they’re positive and sometimes negative. So the real question is not, “Are these effects real?”, but “What’s really going on?”Continue reading “Can ‘regression to the mean’ explain the ‘Dunning-Kruger effect’?”
There’s no evidence that …
More exposure means more opportunities to mutate. More selection pressure means more variants. This is certainly true for COVID-19 and it might also be true for political rhetoric. The many additional news conferences, press briefings and talk radio slots brought on by the pandemic are perfect conditions for breeding new sound bites and rhetorical tricks. Angry journalists and members of the public provide the selection pressure, weeding out the phrases that fall flat.Continue reading “There’s no evidence that …”
The Way of the Statistician and the Way of the Physicist
The rules of evidence as presented in statistics textbooks are not the same as the informal criteria that statisticians and practitioners use in deciding what methods to use. What are the similarities and differences between statistical thinking and the modeling done in the physical sciences?Continue reading “The Way of the Statistician and the Way of the Physicist”
People are not plants … and a little meditation
On this Groundhog Day, I should be focused on how many weeks are left in winter. Instead, I still find myself in that period of reflection spurred on by the arbitrary change of number associated with our calendar. As for many, 2020 was marked by much change in my life. I attribute much of the positive to attempts to build various mindfulness practices into my life. As a statistician, I often find myself in a tension between caring and not caring about results of research on such practices. Why the tension?Continue reading “People are not plants … and a little meditation”