## teachin’ (math?) stat…

Posted in Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , on January 24, 2012 by xi'an

Arthur Charpentier (from the awesome Freakonometrics) pointed out to me those two blogs about teaching statistics. One by Meg Dillon about the joy of teaching statistics in France, of all places!, and entitled Statistics à la Mode. And another one by Douglas Andrews commenting on the first one, entitled the Big Mistake: teaching stat as though it was math… (It appeared on an ASA community blog/forum I did not know about.)

…there is almost invariably a peculiar pair of caveats presented as from on high: Never accept the alternative hypothesis, and ever say the probability is 0.95 that the mean lies in a 95% confidence interval for the mean.” Meg Dillon, After Math

Both blogs managed to bemuse me (this is not going to be a very coherent post, I am afraid!): the first one because it has this condescending tone of pure mathematicians about statistics or at least statistics course (i.e. “anyone can teach statistics!” mixed with “I hate teaching statistics!”) that I meet too often, esp. this side of the pond. Plus it seemed to miss the fundamental distinction between probability and statistics (check the above quote). And it did not say why the contents of the French course was much nicer than the equivalent designed by Meg Dillon at her university (except for the fact that she could use measure theory from the start). Maybe the French idiosyncrasy the author basks in is the fact that statistics is not recognised as a field in French universities (there is no stat department for instance) but is instead a subfield of mathematics…

…stat is a different intellectual discipline.  She longs for a so-called stat course based on sigma-algebras and probability spaces.  Well, that has been tried many times over many years, and it fails miserably at helping students understand the important stat concepts.” Douglas Andrews, ASA Blog Viewer

The second post is making sense in stressing that stat is not math. (Or rather, as it should have been stated, it is not only math.) And that (non-statistician) mathematicians should get some preliminary training or exposure to real data when teaching statistics courses. I can certainly remember a few of my (French) stat teachers who had never approached data in their whole life! However, the comment that “foundation of stat is in empirical science and in learning from observed data, not in math” seems to go overboard. As it echoes in negative the complaint from the math teacher that intro statistics courses were “a hodgepodge of recipes” with no mathematical backbone. My feeling there is that, while we certainly do not need measure theory for the earliest statistics courses (Riemann integration is good enough for my second and third year students), we have to anchor statistical techniques into a mathematical bed to avoid them looking as a bag of tricks. I remember after my first (mathematical) statistics course on being puzzled by the lack of direction and/or the multiplicity, when compared with a standard math course. I was missing the decision-theoretic part that was to come later! Had I been exposed to a non-mathematical intro stat course, I do not think I would have persevered in this field! (And I would have moved to differential geometry instead…)

## Mr Meyrowitz’s glasses

Posted in Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , on October 23, 2011 by xi'an

Today, I found a site entitled Mr Meyrowitz’s Class that links to my first post on coincidences in lotteries as an example of “fatal error”. This seems to be part of a student’s assignment, apparently for the CollegeBoard programme, with 10 minutes allocated to students to find my “fatal error with decimals and probabilities”… As there is no hint, I wonder where my fatal error stands: I could not find it after those 10 minutes of intense searching and recomputing. Maybe Mr Meyrowitz actually needs new glasses to spot the difference between a 1‰ chance and a 1% chance… (Which actually misled a few other readers of the post.)

Question 6) in this assignment also sounds very much inspired from another of my posts on coincidences in lotteries [although not acknowledged in the assignment] since the question refers to the same original France Soir article in French. The question is however rather vague: “do you suspect him of cheating?” and it shows a lack of knowledge about French loto where cheating is [close to] impossible. It is certainly not recommended as an exercise for beginning students in probability or statistics. [Actually, in my opinion, the whole assignment is poor, being either imprecise, e.g question 7), useless, as for question 4) "Pick one topic that you understand very well and one that you do not understand well" (!), or plain wrong, as for question 2)...]

## The joys of teaching R

Posted in R, Statistics with tags , , , on November 23, 2010 by xi'an

Just read a fun and much to the point blog entry on the difficulties of teaching proper programming skills to first year students! I will certainly make use of the style file as grading 180 exams is indeed a recurrent nightmare…