Monday, June 18, 2012

Tragic Examples


Can Our Real-World Statistical Examples Be More Optimistic?

At one point in the recent math conference, one of the better speakers was analyzing the famous graph of Napoleon's march into Russia (which some argue is the greatest statistical graph ever). And then this speaker ruminated:
"It's remarkable that some of our best examples of quantitative reasoning are based on tragedies... I'm looking for more optimistic examples."

The MadMath response would be: You won't find them. (None that are so intense and urgent, at any rate.) As a say near the start of my stats courses: many of our examples will be dealing with violent acts, or deaths from disease, or drug abuse, or other unpleasant circumstances. You wouldn't bother with this kind of math unless you could save someone's life with it. Math isn't a pleasant serenade; it's a battle of necessity.


1 comment:

  1. And a bit more: I was sitting in my office in the hour before teaching my summer statistics class, thinking about how I should open the class. And this item crystallized what I should do:

    Embrace the tragedy. What I did for my opening example was: "Let's say I want to know at what age Americans die. I want to know the average age for all Americans when they die. I want to be able to predict when you will die." It was immediate and attention-getting and a life-and-death issue, and I got a very good reaction from it. Thanks to the conference speaker who (unwittingly) helped me out with this.

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