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Posts Tagged "Statistics"

Absolutely Maybe

Vacation: What’s the Point?

Cartoon - what did you do on vacation? Went cherry-picking

It’s not really news when a journalist goes cherry-picking for juicy tidbits to fit a narrative, is it? We all fall into the trap of going too easy on the things we want to believe. So what is it about a piece about vacations in Vox that got me rushing to the keyboard? Science journalist [...]

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Absolutely Maybe

Science in the Abstract: Don’t Judge a Study by its Cover

Cartoon in a lab - You said to do an abstract

A competition for attention lies at the heart of the scientific enterprise. And the abstract is its “blurb.” A scientific abstract is a summary used to attract readers to an article and to get a piece of research accepted for a conference presentation. Other than the title, it’s the part of an article that is [...]

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Absolutely Maybe

A Viewer’s Guide to Mammography Evidence Ping-Pong

Cartoon of woman saying you bet I have questions

You could get a very sore neck watching all the claims and counter-claims about mammography zing back and forth. It’s like a lot of evidence ping-pong matches. There are teams with strongly held opinions at the table, smashing away at opposing arguments based on different interpretations of the same data. Meanwhile, women are being advised [...]

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Absolutely Maybe

The Disease Prevention Illusion: A Tragedy in Five Parts

Cartoon of an early bird catching no worms

Act I: An ounce of “prevention.” “Prevention is better than cure.” Aphorisms like this go back a long way. And most of our dramatic triumphs against disease come from prevention: clean water, making roads and workplaces safer, antiseptic routines in hospital, reducing smoking, immunization, stemming the spread of HIV. Many of our cultural superstitions and greatest [...]

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Absolutely Maybe

5 key things to know about meta-analysis

Cartoon - meta-analysis bookshop

Knowledge accumulates. But studies can get contradictory or misleading along the way. You can’t just do a head count: 3 studies saying yes minus 1 saying no ≠ thumbs up. The one that says “no” might outweigh the others in validity and power. You need a study of the studies if you want to be sure [...]

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Absolutely Maybe

Voices, silence, strength and Judith Lumley: A women in science mentoring tale

Photo of Judith Lumley

It began, as life changes often do, when I bought a book. It was in Sydney and I wrote the year in it: 1982. You know when it feels as though something could have been written just for you? That. I was 21, pregnant and more than a bit scared. The book, Birth Rites, Birth [...]

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Absolutely Maybe

Biomedical research: Believe it or not?

Report card cartoon

It’s not often that a research article barrels down the straight toward its one millionth view. Thousands of biomedical papers are published every day. Despite often ardent pleas by their authors to “Look at me! Look at me!,” most of those articles won’t get much notice. Attracting attention has never been a problem for this paper though. [...]

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Absolutely Maybe

Statistical significance and its part in science downfalls

Cartoon of statistician on ward rounds

Imagine if there were a simple single statistical measure everybody could use with any set of data and it would reliably separate true from false. Oh, the things we would know! Unrealistic to expect such wizardry though, huh? Yet, statistical significance is commonly treated as though it is that magic wand. Take a null hypothesis [...]

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Absolutely Maybe

Dancing, sand art and science: Communication by art-y means

Photo of dancing statistics

There’s something wonderful about those art forms that can bypass our adult selves and touch the child inside us. Sand art has that in spades. Its family members include building sand castles, but the kind I mean here is live performance art. It’s better to experience it than read an explanation of it. The first performance [...]

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Molecules to Medicine

Drug screens-any more than theater?

I’ve been doing a lot of traveling recently, and am increasingly disturbed by the growing surveillance society and the misplaced reassurances that are used to assuage the public, coined “security theater” by Bruce Schneier. Here we’ll look at this drama in the context of screening for drugs of abuse. In a later post we’ll look [...]

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Molecules to Medicine

Understanding medical news – “Between the Lines”

First, a confession—I’m a mathphobe, traumatized by growing up in a family skewed with an overabundance of math genes for whom math skills came as naturally as breathing.  I always got confused, and thought it was “sadistics,” not “statistics.” So it was with a bit of hesitation that I tentatively began Between the Lines (BTL), [...]

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Observations

World Cup Prediction Mathematics Explained

Brazil vs. England in a "friendly" in Rio de Janeiro

The World Cup is back, and everyone’s got a pick for the winner. Gamblers have been predicting the outcome of sporting contests since the first foot race across the savannah, but in recent years a unique type of statistical analysis has taken over the prediction business. Everyone from Goldman Sachs to Bloomberg to Nate Silver’s [...]

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Observations

Statistician Creates Alternate Model for College Football Rankings

The Bowl Championship Series (BCS) college football rankings are in turmoil. For two weeks in a row, the top-ranked team has been upset by an underdog from central Texas. (Full disclosure: As a Baylor alum who is the daughter and granddaughter of Aggies, I might be just a little smug.) The BCS rankings are a [...]

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Observations

Is Pop Music Evolving, or Is It Just Getting Louder?

Classic record jukebox

Music just ain’t what it used to be. At least, that’s the stereotypical lament of each receding generation of music listeners. It’s also one way to read a new study on the evolution of pop music in the past half-century. A group of researchers undertook a quantitative analysis of nearly half a million songs to [...]

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Observations

No Matter How Huge, Mega Millions Jackpot Will Always Be a Bad Bet

lottery ticket for mega millions

Yesterday my father-in-law asked me to buy him $100 in lottery tickets. He is ordinarily the kind of guy who would cite the quip “the lottery is a tax on people who can’t do math,” but these are not ordinary times. On Friday night the Mega Millions multi-state lottery will offer a $500 million jackpot, [...]

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Observations

Cigarette Additives Increase Toxicity, According to External Analysis

Cigarette maker Philip Morris spent years studying whether additives, such as menthol, added to the toxicity of their smokes. And several published studies—conducted by the company—have claimed that the additives had no impact on the danger of their products.  But thanks to lawsuits against the tobacco industry, a trove of previously secret scientific and corporate [...]

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Observations

Let’s make a deal: Revisiting the Monty Hall problem

"Charles Sanders Peirce once observed that in no other branch of mathematics is it so easy for experts to blunder as in probability theory." Thus began an article in the October 1959 Scientific American by the celebrated math columnist Martin Gardner. In fact, as John Allen Paulos observed in last January’s issue ("Animal Instincts" [Advances]), [...]

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Observations

Autism and mammography: Two stories of statistical confusion

whiteboard with figures on it

DENVER—There was substantial public outcry last year when new recommendations for mammograms came out suggesting that women could wait until age 50 to start breast cancer screening—and then only get screened every other year. Figures in support of the new policy were bandied about in the news and in doctors’ offices, regarding lives saved from [...]

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Roots of Unity

A Higher Murder Rate than New York and Los Angeles Combined

Non-Violence, a sculpture by Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd in Malmö, Sweden. Image: Francois Polito, via Wikimedia Commons.

Today on the radio, I heard an announcer say, “Chicago has a higher murder rate than New York and Los Angeles combined.” The compassionate human being in me cringed, and the statistical pedant in me also cringed. What does that mean? When I heard, “New York and Los Angeles combined,” I intuitively thought of combining [...]

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Roots of Unity

We Only Need to Fill Out 425 Brackets Each to Win Buffett’s Billion

Will your bracket be a slam dunk? Image: Acid Pix, via flickr.

Warren Buffett’s Bracket Challenge* has put even more of a spotlight than usual on March Madness, the annual NCAA basketball tournament. Buffett has offered a billion dollars to anyone who correctly predicts the outcome of all 63 games in the tournament. There are 2 possible outcomes of every game and therefore 263— 9,223,372,036,854,775,808, or about [...]

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Roots of Unity

Has Anyone Ever Flipped Heads 76 Times in a Row?

What are the odds? Image: Evelyn Lamb

Tom Stoppard’s absurdist play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead begins with one of them, Guildenstern (or is it Rosencrantz?), flipping coins. “Heads,” Rosencrantz says, and takes the coin. Guildenstern flips again. “Heads,” Rosencrantz says, and takes the coin. Another flip. “Heads.” Again, “Heads.” Soon we find out that Guildenstern has flipped 76 coins, and all [...]

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Roots of Unity

When Numbers Are Used for a Witch Hunt

One of the original Victorian Courtrooms at the Galleries of Justice Museum. Image: Fayerollinson, via Wikimedia Commons.

I recently finished the excellent book Math on Trial by Leila Schneps and Coralie Colmez. In it, the authors collect examples where statistical errors have possibly altered the outcome of trials. This weekend I’ll be on a panel about using statistics in science writing, and while the book looked at numbers in the courtroom, many [...]

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Roots of Unity

Sex Makes You Rich? Why We Keep Saying “Correlation Is Not Causation” Even Though It’s Annoying

Sex and money: the Bearina IUD, a conceptual intrauterine device design that would incorporate a (thoroughly cleaned, I hope) copper coin. One of the most effective forms of reversible contraception is the copper IUD. Image: Ronen Kadushin

On Saturday, my Twitter feed alerted me to a totally non-sensationalistic Gawker article called More Buck For Your Bang: People Who Have More Sex Make The Most Money. “Scientists in the adonis-laden European country [Germany] found that people who have sex more than four times a week receive a 3.2 percent higher paycheck than those [...]

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Roots of Unity

Mathematicians Predict What’s in Your Wallet

It's all about the Washingtons. And that smiley face button. Image: flickr user xJason.Rogersx

When I go to Europe, my pockets rapidly fill up with change. In addition to language barriers that prevent me from quickly understanding how much I owe, I have trouble dealing with the unfamiliar coin denominations. The best way to make 75 cents is to use a fifty cent piece, one twenty, and a five, [...]

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Roots of Unity

March Madness Math: Are the “Dreaded Middle Seeds” So Bad?

March Madness always sneaks up on me. I mean, I know that March has started because my dad’s birthday and my wedding anniversary are right at the beginning of the month, but I always end up scrambling to make my NCAA basketball tournament picks the day before games start. Mathematician Jordan Ellenberg has taken the [...]

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Roots of Unity

How Should We Write about Statistics in Public?

I am exited to be attending ScienceOnline in Raleigh, North Carolina later this week. And I’m even more excited to be co-moderating two sessions! One of them, at noon on Thursday, will be about Public Statistics. Hilda Bastian, my partner in crime, has written a cartoon introduction to our session, and I’ve been trying to think of what [...]

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Talking back

Statistical Flaw Punctuates Brain Research in Elite Journals

Neuroscientists need a statistics refresher. That is the message of a new analysis in Nature Neuroscience that shows that more than half of 314 articles on neuroscience in elite journals   during an 18-month period failed to take adequate measures to ensure that statistically significant study results were not, in fact, erroneous. Consequently, at  least some [...]

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The Thoughtful Animal

Feeling Snappy? Measuring Personality in Hermit Crabs

Caribbean_hermit_crab

The idea behind quantifying personality is deceptively simple: personality refers to predictable differences in behavior between people. Those differences should be reasonably reliable. That is, they ought to hold constant across different types of situations. Those differences should also be reasonably stable, which means they should be consistent over time. For example, you might score [...]

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