Little Handbook – Is Statistics Hard?

Published: July 30th, 2012

Category: Activity 4: Outside Reading

From the online version of Little Handbook of Statistical Practice, this reading contains excellent comments about common reasons why many people feel that “statistics is hard” and how to overcome them!

There are a few main points presented in this reading to contemplate.

  • Statistics is backwards and convoluted!
  • Excerpt: We are NOT allowed to say, “Because of these data, there is only a small probability that this theory is true.”  Instead, we say things like, “If this theory is true, the probability of seeing data like these is small.”
  • Failing to find an effect is different from showing there is no effect! 
    Excerpt: “Failing to show an effect” means only that. We’ve failed to show an effect. For example, do nothing! You will have failed to show an effect, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no effect. Maybe, if you’d done something, you’d have seen it!
  • Statistics is as much about philosophy as about anything else: Although we do not expect you to understand the difference between the two camps discussed (mostly because we will not discuss the Bayesian perspective), it is worth noting that in our course, as in the Little Handbook of Statistical Practice, we cover the frequentist approach to inference.
  • PRACTICE, Practice, and more practice!

Student reported errors in this reading: 

  • Under point #2 Statistics is backwards! The first sentence reads: “You might think that given a particular set of data, you are able to say how likely it is that a particulare theory is true. Unfortunately, you would be wrong!”  The word “particular” is spelled incorrectly
  • Repeated whether in “Prior to collecting data, rules are chosen to decide whether whether the data are consistent with the assumption of no effect.”
  • There is a missing period at the end of the sixth sentence of the first paragraph. It reads:”Fall into them at the beginning, and statistics is hard Avoid them from the outset, and you’ll wonder what the fuss is all about.”  It should read: “Fall into them at the beginning, and statistics is hard. Avoid them from the outset, and you’ll wonder what the fuss is all about.”
  • The last sentence of the first paragraph of “Is Statistics Hard?” contains a grammar error. It reads: “The amount of success and the speed with which you’ll achieved it depend in large part on how quickly these particular lessons are learned.”  The word achieved should be achieve.

This document is linked from Role of Biostatistics.