Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Statistics as a foreign language

Pick up any textbook in statistics, and you will soon realize why statistics seem so foreign. It is. The language for many is not only new but mysterious. This is so for several reasons. The language of statistics is:

¨ paradoxically precise yet probabilistic;
¨ slightly askew from everyday usage and downright misleading in some instances;
¨ replete with instances in which the same word takes on substantially different meanings, even in a statistical context; and
¨ replete with double negatives (e.g., rejecting the null hypothesis is one of my favorites).

All these characteristics get in the way of understanding and communicating statistics, but they help make a decent wage for the statisticians who invent the jargon, use it, and criticize others’ misuse of it.

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