Tag Archives: statistics

Contingency Table Analysis What?

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned
lies and statistics.”
-Mark Twain*

I established in another post that I hate school. It partly stems from my dismal mathematical abilities. I wanted to understand calculus. I wanted to understand chemistry formulas. In college, I even took Basic Applied Statistics. After three minutes of lecture I wanted to puke on my shoes. I had no idea what was happening. Yet, I persist in reading books about math and physics and economics, even if I don’t always understand them.

MATH

Thankfully, the rockstar economists (Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner) who brought you the ground-breaking Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything and Superfreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance (as well as the movie and weekly podcast) have come out with a new book that will retrain your brain to think about economics and statistics creatively, productively, and sans math skills.

Steves

For example: remember the “Year of the Shark” in 2001? During that entire year, there were 68 shark attacks, 4 of which were fatal. Four in a world of 6 BILLION people. Elephants kill at least 200 people every year, but we never hear about the “Year of the Elephant” (International Shark Attack File  if you’re really that interested in shark attacks).

Vicious killer.

Vicious killer.

Or see the math that proves drunk walking is far more dangerous than drunk driving. In one of my favorite chapters, find out why a “street prostitute is like a department store santa” (hint: it involves spikes in demand).

Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics are about recognizing the tricks in statistics and economics. Yes, elephants kill more people yearly but elephants don’t have an image problem. Unless you consider Dumbo or Babar “too” cute. And, yes, on a per mile basis, drunk walking is more dangerous. Does that mean the next time you drink too much whiskey you should go on a joyride or become a seasonal prostitute? Probably not. So the first two books focused on the magic behind the numbers. Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain instead wants you to recognize your attitude toward these numbers, in a local and global context. Some advice from the book includes:

  • Think like a child.
  • Never be afraid to say “I don’t know.”
  • Be prepared for a really, really simple answer.
  • Get rid of your moral compass.
  • And, seriously, never forget incentives. Ever. It’s a thing in economics.

Along the way, you’ll learn about hot dog eating competitions (Kobayashi!) and why those pesky Nigerian scammers will never, ever give up. Learn when to break up and discover that David Lee Roth isn’t being a diva when he wants his brown M&Ms removed.

Finally, find out here why there is no such thing as a free appetizer and why Americans just aren’t into soccer (Be prepared to waste some serious time on this website. The questions are better than Dear Abby!).

happy mathing!

suzy

*Mark Twain is maybe the author. Or Benjamin Disraeli.

 

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Notes From an Intern

Today’s guest post is from Tanya, one of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Minority Interns for 2009. The CLP Minority Summer Intern program is a grant-funded internship program–courtesy of the Heinz Endowments designed to encourage minority participation in the field of library/information science. The internship offers students of varying backgrounds the opportunity to learn about and experience the internal workings of a dynamic library. The internship was directed toward students who are enrolled either in a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree program.

So what’s a job at the library like?  Maybe you know the library from the few simple clicks it takes you to request the books and DVDs online that neatly end up on a shelf with your name on them that day.  Or perhaps you know the library from the attractive and abundant displays of bestsellers and online booklists created by a team of professional librarians.  Behind the scenes, myriad decisions are made daily just to keep the library humming at a pace that includes hundreds of new library card sign-ups and thousands of items moved around the system every month. 

I have never been witness to more individuals caring about the progress and development of the whole “library family” than during my internship.  Puzzled over a question about electronic resources?  A colleague will be by your side in no time.  Unsure about where to find railroad statistics from 1876?  A reference librarian who has worked with older periodicals will know.  This patient and caring attitude extends beyond customer service into the dealings between colleagues behind the scenes.

While at the Carrick branch, I faced questions like “How do I set up my DTV converter?” and “Can you help me find tax forms?”  I managed to answer both of these to the patrons’ liking.  While in Oakland I made my first booklist and book displays, and selected new titles for the upcoming year from small press catalogs.  My greatest joy, however, was teaching a patron how to request his own materials online.  This made my job worthwhile—the act of teaching people to help themselves is incredibly rewarding.

I met many people during my stay at the library and had many bits of essential information passed on to me.  The statement that stuck with me the most was that of a long-time manager telling me, “The library is the last great social contract.  You come in, you give us your address and phone number, and we let you leave with hundreds of dollars of materials, no questions asked.”  But the truth of the matter is that a lot of time and diligence goes into replacing, repairing and paying for lost, stolen, or damaged items.  What does it say about us—the citizenry—when we accept educational budget cuts in the name of something more important?  Or about the individual who returns an item tattered and dog-eared? 

If you are curious as to where the future of our country lies, morally and as a republic, I suggest taking a look at your local library and its future.  How important is your library to you, and what will you gain or lose should it no longer be “free to the people”?

I can’t be grateful enough to everyone and everything that made my internship possible, from the Heinz grant to my bosses, who trusted me enough to give me  real responsibilities.  In the future, the library will be in the forefront of my mind.  I hope that the library will continue to function in the capacity it does today, including the support of internships like mine.

–Tanya

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