Why do kids (and you) need to learn statistics?

Statistics are boring. They’re hard. They’re useless. You’ll never use them in real life.

p value statistics memeOh, how wrong that is. I’ll agree that if you aren’t blessed with the genes that make math and statistics a piece of pie (mmmm, pie), then yes statistics are hard. But there are innumerable real-life examples to show just how important it is to be comfortable with statistics.

Sports: If you’re a fan of sports, you no doubt are bombarded with statistics throughout the season just like these interpretations of statistics shared by  on the Pensburgh. The headlines are exciting but the reality of each headline is simple – they mislead and even outright lie. If you understood statistics, you’d immediately see for yourself what the numbers really said.

HEADLINE! Pittsburgh’s penalty kill is going to be an Achilles’ Heel this season!
(The team has killed 18 straight chances over its last five games.)

BREAKING! The team is going to walk away with the Metropolitan Division again!<
(They’re in second place, and half the division is within a point of catching them.)

THIS JUST IN! The Penguins just can’t put away teams late in the game!
(They’ve outscored their opponents 5-0 in the third period of two straight games, both wins.)

via On the Penguins, Sample Size and Apocalypse Narratives (Tuesday Slew) – PensBurgh.

Medicine: How many commercials on TV and ads in magazines extol the virtues of amazing new drugs, perhaps even drugs that you are desperate to try to alleviate your own health issues? If you understood statistics, you would know right away when the ads were misleading. You’d spot when the sample sizes were too small to be reliable, when the effect size was too small to be meaningful, or when the lack of a test-retest design suggested insufficient testing.

Sometimes companies egregiously exaggerate how well their drugs work. In a brochure given to doctors and nurses last year, the Japanese drug company Eisai claimed that its Dacogen drug helped 38% of patients with a rare blood cell disorder in a clinical study. This figure was false, the FDA said in a November 2009 warning letter. In fact, the figure was taken from a tiny subgroup of patients who responded well to the drug. When all patients in the study were included, the real response rate was a much less impressive 20%, the FDA noted.

Read more on this and other misleading advertisements here.

Politics: Political polling is becoming more and more prominent in the news. If you had a better understanding of statistics, you would know when to trust the polls. You would know why percentages don’t always add to 100, why polls ‘weight’ data, or why the margin of error is ridiculously important (even if you don’t have a random sample).

Seven hundred randomly selected New York likely voters were interviewed by landline and cell telephone between October 1 and November 1, 2014. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3.6 percent. The data have been weighted to adjust for numbers of adults and telephone lines within households, sex, age, and region. Due to rounding, percentages may not sum to 100%. Responder numbers in each demographic may not equal the total respondent number due to respondents choosing not to answer some questions.

No matter how you look at it, statistics are among the most important classes you can take. It’s in your best interest to sign up for a class now.

2 responses

  1. Absolutely agree. Misuse/misinterpretation of statistics is rampant. ‘Why Statistics?’ is also the topic of my very first blog post! Would appreciate your comments…

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