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Interpreting Statistics

February 13, 2013

That famous quote

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

was attributed to British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli.  I would think only someone like Mark Twain would said something like this in public, or maybe Mark Twain (wrongly) attributed this to PM Disraeli.

But jokes aside, this stats thingy is one very powerful tool which every researcher has to learn.  Once I was in a dentist chair and after knowing what my profession is, the dentist asked me (with a drill in my mouth):

Do you know how the Cox-Mantel nonparametric test work?

I said “NO,” (lest he got so caught-up with this piece of stat info, he made a mistake in my mouth).  But before my journey to the Pure Math world, I spent a lot of time on Stats in my first bachelor degree in Singapore and my second (master of Arts?) degree in Toronto.

Occasionally, I like to show Stem-and-Leaf Plot of the exam scores to students right after their exams.  My favourite online generator is that of Calculator Soup dot com as they also gives min, max, median, mode variance, instead of telling them just the mean score.  And then I teach them how to interpret their own score as compared to how the class is doing.

If you’re one standard deviation away from the mean or if you’re not in the inter-quartile range, then you are struggling to keep your head above the water in this swimming class!

I usually compare my math class with a typical swim team training.

Then one day, I realized stats was given after I e-filed my 1040A with TurboTax!  And I was below average in income amongst those that filed with TurboTax!  Maybe only rich and middle income people like to file using this software?  Or maybe I’m just tens of thousands below an average worker when comparing wages!  So does that mean I have been living in poverty all these while?  I don’t think I’m near the poverty line and I certainly didn’t feel it!  maybe I’ve never chased after that $$$ and I deserved to be getting the short end of the sticks.  But you-know what?  I’m not going to do anything about it.  I’m going to continue to be that happy go lucky guy, that Little-Big Soldier played by Jackie Chan  and Wang Leehom who likes to say “那也 挺好的”.

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