Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

What You Should Know About Statistics

Date:
October 22, 2003
Source:
University Of California - Davis
Summary:
Poor understanding of statistics causes many to view numbers cynically. And news reports of confusing, seemingly contradictory figures worsen the problem. Jessica Utts, a UC Davis statistics professor, thinks changing college statistics courses could help citizens better understand statistics-oriented news.

Poor understanding of statistics causes many to view numbers cynically. And news reports of confusing, seemingly contradictory figures worsen the problem. Jessica Utts, a UC Davis statistics professor, thinks changing college statistics courses could help citizens better understand statistics-oriented news.

Calculation-heavy courses teach t-tests, ANOVAs, and other statistical procedures. But students don't learn to spot common errors in statistical statements -- a problem when they need to read statistical results and interpret them for their own lives, said Utts.

In a recent paper published in the journal American Statistician, Utts describes seven common ways that statistics are misinterpreted, in news reports and elsewhere. The most insidious mistake, she said, is confusion about cause-and-effect relationships.

"Often, an observational study will link two variables where you'd like to think that there's a cause-and-effect relationship," said Utts. But based on the way these studies are done, there is no justification for concluding that cause-and-effect relationships exist, she said.

For example, a recent study found higher suicide rates among women who have had breast implants. "People might like to conclude that breast implants are causing suicides," Utts said. But the study design doesn't support that result. To avoid confusion when interpreting observational studies, you have to include possible alternate explanations, Utts said.

"For instance, women's self image could confound the study on breast implants and suicide," she said.

Confusing the terms "average" and "normal" is another common pitfall. "We're always hearing that 'the normal temperature for today is 80 degrees,'" Utts said. "But that's the average of temperatures recorded on this date in the past." Including a range of likely values with reported averages -- for example, "temperatures on this date have varied from 64 to 91 degrees" -- is more useful, she said.

Utts is the author of "Seeing Through Statistics" and co-author of "Mind on Statistics." She gives regular talks for general audiences on the everyday use of statistics.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University Of California - Davis. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

University Of California - Davis. "What You Should Know About Statistics." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 October 2003. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/10/031022062003.htm>.
University Of California - Davis. (2003, October 22). What You Should Know About Statistics. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/10/031022062003.htm
University Of California - Davis. "What You Should Know About Statistics." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/10/031022062003.htm (accessed July 23, 2014).

More Computers & Math News

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Robot Parking Valet Creates Stress-Free Travel

Robot Parking Valet Creates Stress-Free Travel

AP (July 23, 2014) — 'Ray' the robotic parking valet at Dusseldorf Airport in Germany lets travelers to avoid the hassle of finding a parking spot before heading to the check-in desk. (July 23) Video provided by AP
Six Indicted in StubHub Hacking Scheme

Six Indicted in StubHub Hacking Scheme

AP (July 23, 2014) — Six people were indicted Wednesday in an international ring that took over more than 1,000 StubHub users' accounts and fraudulently bought tickets that were then resold. (July 23) Video provided by AP
The Reviews Are In For The Amazon Fire Phone

The Reviews Are In For The Amazon Fire Phone

Newsy (July 23, 2014) — Amazon's first smartphone, the Fire Phone, is set to ship this week, and so far the reviews have been pretty mixed. Video provided by Newsy
Bigger Apple Phone, Bigger Orders

Bigger Apple Phone, Bigger Orders

Reuters - Business Video Online (July 22, 2014) — Apple is asking suppliers to make 70 to 80 million units of its new larger screen iPhone, a lot more initially than its current model. Fred Katayama reports. Video provided by Reuters

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):

Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions

Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile

Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?

Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web