Statistics is actually really cool (and why you probably didn't like it before)

I think one of my favorite ways to procrastinate is to pick an activity that is remotely related to the thing I should be doing and then just go with that (despite it not really being what I should be doing). In this spirit, I decided to read “Naked Statistics” by Charles Wheelan instead of preparing for my Econometrics exam. 

Did I learn something? Yes. 
Did I learn something for my Econometrics exam? Probably not really.

Wheelan’s “Naked Economics” was the first book I read about economics. After being accepted to university I thought I should read something about economics since I’ve never done it before and thank Bernie Sanders, did I pick up that book. In his “naked” books Charles Wheelan takes seemingly boring or dismal topics and turns them into a disney-land-like experience (I may be slightly exaggerating) by explaining the intuition behind all those formulas and models that haunted you the days before an exam, something usually missing from your standard 101 university module. My statistics class at university was a bunch of formulas that I tried to remember and apply to the type of questions I thought were going to come up. Looking back, I think this is what I did with most of my math modules all throughout high school and now university. Sadly, most math teachers this far didn’t care to explain why we use a certain formula or even what it means, leaving students bored and disinterested with the topic.

Fast forward to the first weeks of this semester and me doing econometrics, which is basically a cross-over of economics and statistics. What we’ve done this far is applying the abstract concepts and formulas from statistics to real-life scenarios. Through this process it became clear to me what all that stats-stuff was for and why I needed to understand it. Apparently, questions about the gender wage gap, the relationship between education and wages, and more can be approached with those random-seeming formulas I crammed into my head the days before the statistics exam. Who would have thought?

Especially statistics play such an important role in our life that it’s a shame they have such a bad reputation. Whether it’s reading about some crazy connection between getting up at 4 am and being more successful, being confronted with some headline about increasing crime rates because of immigration or having to listen to a family member at Christmas about the success rate of a new diet, statistics can help interpret these “findings” with caution and be wary about the next outrageous headline. Debates would be much more informed if people couldn’t just quote any statistic that was intentionally designed to support an argument and get away with it, and the media, too, would have to live up to higher standards if people demanded statistical information to presented appropriately. Yet, I completely relate to anyone feeling discouraged by what they’ve learned about statistics at school because they didn’t understand it. Staring at letters and numbers in a formula and for the love of Ruth Bader Ginsburg not being able to make sense of them is a sure way to make you feel stupid. Teachers should make more of an effort to communicate the intuition behind those formulas instead of just expecting students to understand them. After all, the math is forgotten the minute the exam ends, but the intuition stays. Furthermore, it takes me two seconds to look up a formula on the internet. I doubt anyone will ever ask me on the spot to calculate the standard error of a regression I performed, whereas understanding and being able to communicate the information conveyed in that formula is a more useful skill.

Until the entire education system changes, because I have written this blog post, I recommend reading “Naked Statistics”[1] and learning something valuable in a truly entertaining way (because Wheelan is not only good at explaining he’s also a great writer). 

The only thing I didn’t like about the book is that I wish it hadn’t been written so I could have written it.




[1] Charles Wheelan should pay me for promoting this book

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