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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?  

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How typical is a “median person”?
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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.

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There’s no evidence that …
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Coronavirus baby bust?

Early in the pandemic, people started speculating about potential effects on birth rates. I started talking about news and research that asked the question, “Will coronavirus cause a baby boom, or is that just a myth?” At the time, I ended with a not-so-satisfying “we’ll know in about 9 months.”

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Coronavirus baby bust?
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Uncertainty is a funny thing: musings on wildfire and COVID

It’s a cliché at this point for news articles to compare COVID spread to a wildfire. But the start of meteorological summer in the northern hemisphere this past week coincides with the start of the north American wildfire season, and COVID still rages across the planet, so bear with me a moment for another take on this metaphor. 

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Uncertainty is a funny thing: musings on wildfire and COVID
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Where will the rocket land?

“No, you are almost certainly not going to be hit by a 10-story, 23-ton piece of a rocket hurtling back to Earth. That said, the chances are not zero.”  Thus The New York Times on May 6 writing about the impending reentry of the first stage of the Chinese CZ-5B rocket, which had been launched the day before to test a spacecraft prototype.  Unlike most rockets sent into orbit these days, which are designed to either burn up in the atmosphere or land in the ocean, this rocket stage would experience an “uncontrolled re-entry” and crash in an unknown location.

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Where will the rocket land?
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Numbers and their baggage

Numbers often get the spotlight in news stories.  Sometimes they deserve the front stage as valuable information describing a situation that would be hard, if not impossible, to adequately capture without them.  But, they can also easily mislead.  All numbers in the news come with baggage. For some numbers, the baggage is out in the open like a carry on, but for many it is of unknown form, size, and weight – and hidden deep in the baggage compartment.

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Numbers and their baggage
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How to save yourself using a bit of logic and statistics

Logical versus emotional motives. Perceptions versus observed numbers. We are always facing a fight between two sides of the same coin. When we feel anxious, scared, or worried, we look for certainty. Several examples arise in day-life activities. 

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How to save yourself using a bit of logic and statistics
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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?

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The Way of the Statistician and the Way of the Physicist
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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?

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People are not plants … and a little meditation
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Uncertainty and prediction

A Danish proverb asserts that Prediction is hard – especially about the future. Prediction is especially hard when it comes to describing uncertainty. Today, the US votes (or finishes voting) on the next President, and there is a lot of interest in forecasting, formal or informal.

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Uncertainty and prediction