big data | March 06, 2013

Charles Wheelan: "Statistics Have A Point Of View"

As Charles Wheelan tells MPR, the reason a lot of us stopped taking an interest in statistics is because we stopped being told why it was important. And, as the Naked Statistics author says in the interview, understanding statistics (even on a basic level) is important for all of us. One of the great things about statistics is that it gives us a shorthand way to convey and understand large amounts of complex information. To most of us, statistical formulas can look like a foreign language. However, as he argues in his book, finding a way to relate to the formulas and symbols can be extremely beneficial to the way we process the steady steam of data being thrown at us each day.

What's important to remember, however, is that a portion of the overall picture is often lost in statistical analysis. It's not possible to condense everything into a single stat, nor is it possible to always present every relevant stat in a discussion or campaign. "Statistics have a point of view," he explains. Stats can be picked and chosen to convey a certain perspective—making it even more important to understand how a sample was gathered and how information is presented. When you can understand what the statistic may be leaving out, you can better comprehend what is being expressed in the stat you are analyzing. Polling numbers, for example, can be a valuable tool in determining which way a certain part of the population is leaning politically. However, you have to ensure that the sample used to extrapolate those numbers is an accurate representation of the population. If you can ask yourself these questions when analyzing stats, you can gain a more comprehensive understanding of the information that influences your decisions.

Similar to his previous work, Naked Economics, Wheelan's new book strips the confusion and fear away from numbers and data. He also discusses similar themes in his popular Yahoo! column "Naked Statistics." In his talks, he explains that statistics are all around us—and embracing them allows us to transform raw data into knowledge that can truly benefit our lives.

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innovation | March 05, 2013