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Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

Posted by Rebecca on 15 September 2008

I don’t get along well with Greek letters. I am terrible at anything involving them (no matter how hard I try) and I usually don’t have any fun, either.  Math is a classic example.  I once accidentally enrolled in advanced calculus for engineers and pre-med students - it was the most harrowing experience of my life. Some people freak out at the sight of bugs or vermin, but µ ≥ β is what sends a chill up my spine.

So needless to say, I had to resist the urge to vomit when I saw our class schedule for the month of September: 5 full days of Business Statistics. 9 am – 5 pm.  I prepared for the worst, but was pleasantly surprised after our first day of class.  It helps that our professor, Kristin Fridgeirsdottir, has managed to make statistics practical and interesting, using examples that are relevant to what we’re reading in the news (e.g., polling for the upcoming U.S. presidential election).  She also has a great sense of humor, which keeps us awake and laughing.  The class format helps - it’s not 8 hours of straight lecture as I originally feared, but broken up into four segments: 90 minutes of lecture, 90 minutes of exercises in our study group with a PhD student, lunch, 90 minutes of class discussion, and finished by a 90 minute workshop in the computer lab. 

Not only do the stat days pass by pretty quickly, but I’m actually learning something, too. I used to be highly skeptical about regression.  In my previous job as a management consultant, I noticed that new MBAs attempted to use regression to answer every single problem - we called it “Regression Aggression”.  But now I’m starting to see how statistics could help shed light on relationships in our daily life:

·         The further away your apartment is from campus, the higher the probability you will be late to class (1 tube stop = 1 standard deviation)

·         There is a strong positive correlation between total daily beer consumption and average weight gain

·         57: the mean number of clubs each student has joined so far (skewed slightly by an outlier who joined every single one)

·         For every bank that fails, an additional 100,000 people will apply to business school next year (95% confidence interval, +/- 12,893)

I’ll be sad when Business Statistics finishes on Friday. 

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