I read in The Guardian today about James Stewart’s house being for sale. James Stewart was a prolific author of many college and high-school books on calculus and pre-calculus. I have trouble understanding how one can write so many books on the same topic, but he apparently managed, to the point of having this immense house designed by architects to his taste. Which sounds a bit passé in my opinion. Judging from the covers of the books, and from the shape of the house, he had a fascination for the integral sign (which has indeed an intrinsic beauty!). Still amazing considering it was paid by his royalties. Less amazing when checking the price of those books: they are about $250 a piece. Multiplied by hundreds of thousands of copies sold every year, it sums up to being able to afford such a maths mansion! (I am not so sure I can take over the undergrad market by recycling the Bayesian Choice..!)
Archive for textbooks
A few weeks ago, I received a copy of The Cartoon Introduction to Statistics by Grady Klein and Alan Dabney, send by their publisher, Farrar, Staus and Giroux from New York City. (Never heard of this publisher previously, but I must admit the aggregation of those three names sounds great!) As this was an unpublished version of the book, to appear in July 2013, I first assumed my copy was a draft version, with black and white drawings using limited precision graphics.. However, when checking the already published Cartoon Introduction to Economics, I realised this was the style of Grady Klein (as reflected below).
Thus, I have to assume this is how The Cartoon Introduction to Statistics will look like when published in July… Actually, I received later a second copy of the definitive version, so I can guarantee this is the case. (Funny enough, there is a supportive quote of the author of Naked Statistics on the back-cover!) I am quite perplexed by the whole project. First, I do not see how a newcomer to the field can learn better from a cartoon with an average four sentences per page than from a regular introductory textbook. Cartoons introduce an element of fun into the explanation, with jokes and (irrelevant) side stories, but they are also distracting as readers are not always in a position to know what matters and what does not. Second, as the drawings are done in a rough style, I find this increases the potential for confusion. For instance, the above cover reproduces an example linking the histogram of a sample of averages and the normal distribution. If a reader has never heard of histograms, I do not see how he or she could gather how they are constructed in practice. The width of the bags is related to the number of persons in each bag (50 random Americans) in the story, while it should be related to the inverse of the square root of this number in the theory. Similarly, I find the explanation about confidence intervals lacking: when trying to reassure the readers about the fact that any given random sample from a population might be misleading, the authors state that “in the long run most cans [of worms] have averages in the clump under the hump [of the normal pdf]”. This is not reassuring at all: when using confidence intervals based on 10 or on 10⁵ normal observations, the corresponding 95% confidence intervals on their mean both have 95% chances to contain the true mean. The long run aspect refers to the repeated use of those intervals. (I am not even mentioning the classical fallacy of stating that “we are 99.7% confident that the population average is somewhere between -1.73 and -0.27″…)
In conclusion, I remember buying an illustrated entry to Marx’ Das Kapital when I started economics in graduate school (as a minor). This gave me a very quick idea of the purpose of the book. However, I read through the whole book to understand (or try to understand) Marx’ analysis of the economy. And the introduction did not help much in this regard. In the present setting, we are dealing with statistics, not economics, not philosophy. Having read a cartoon about the average length of worms within a can of worms is not going to help much in understanding the Central Limit Theorem and the subsequent derivation of confidence intervals. The validation of statistical methods is done through mathematics, which provides a formal language cartoons cannot reproduce.
(My colleague Jean-Louis Fouley, now at I3M, Montpellier, kindly agreed to write a review on the BUGS book for CHANCE. Here is the review, en avant-première! Watch out, it is fairly long and exhaustive! References will be available in the published version. The additions of book covers with BUGS in the title and of the corresponding Amazon links are mine!)
If a book has ever been so much desired in the world of statistics, it is for sure this one. Many people have been expecting it for more than 20 years ever since the WinBUGS software has been in use. Therefore, the tens of thousands of users of WinBUGS are indebted to the leading team of the BUGS project (D Lunn, C Jackson, N Best, A Thomas and D Spiegelhalter) for having eventually succeeded in finalizing the writing of this book and for making sure that the long-held expectations are not dashed.
As well explained in the Preface, the BUGS project initiated at Cambridge was a very ambitious one and at the forefront of the MCMC movement that revolutionized the development of Bayesian statistics in the early 90’s after the pioneering publication of Gelfand and Smith on Gibbs sampling.
This book comes out after several textbooks have already been published in the area of computational Bayesian statistics using BUGS and/or R (Gelman and Hill, 2007; Marin and Robert, 2007; Ntzoufras, 2009; Congdon, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010; Kéry, 2010; Kéry and Schaub, 2011 and others). It is neither a theoretical book on foundations of Bayesian statistics (e.g. Bernardo and Smith, 1994; Robert, 2001) nor an academic textbook on Bayesian inference (Gelman et al, 2004, Carlin and Louis, 2008). Instead, it reflects very well the aims and spirit of the BUGS project and is meant to be a manual “for anyone who would like to apply Bayesian methods to real-world problems”.
In spite of its appearance, the book is not elementary. On the contrary, it addresses most of the critical issues faced by statisticians who want to apply Bayesian statistics in a clever and autonomous manner. Although very dense, its typical fluid British style of exposition based on real examples and simple arguments helps the reader to digest without too much pain such ingredients as regression and hierarchical models, model checking and comparison and all kinds of more sophisticated modelling approaches (spatial, mixture, time series, non linear with differential equations, non parametric, etc…).
The book consists of twelve chapters and three appendices specifically devoted to BUGS (A: syntax; B: functions and C: distributions) which are very helpful for practitioners. The book is illustrated with numerous examples. The exercises are well presented and explained, and the corresponding code is made available on a web site. Continue reading