Chance News 26

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It is now proved beyond doubt that smoking is one of the

leading causes of statistics.

Fletcher Krebel
Reader's Digest (December 1961)

One of the naturalists had argued that On the Origin of Species was too theoretical, that Darwin should have just "put his facts before us and let them rest." In response, Darwin reflected that science, to be of any service, required more than list making; it needed larger ideas that could make sense of piles of data. Otherwise, Darwin said, a geologist "might as well go into a gravel-pit and count the pebbles and describe the colours." Data without generalizations are useless; facts without explanatory principles are meaningless.
Michael Shermer
Why Darwin Matters. The Case Against Intelligent Design. (page 1)


The following Forsooths were in the April 2007 RSS News:

Britain has been basking in the early onset of spring with temperatures almost twice as warm as the same time last year.
Lucy Ballinger
Daily Mirror
12 March 2007

PHEW! Twice as warm as Corfu

It's not often we put Corfu in the shade weatherwise, especially at tis time of the year. But while the Greek holiday spot could only manage a paltry B8C (46F) yesterday, Britons basked in the sun as temperatures reached 16C (60F) yesterday.
Stephen White
Daily Mirror
12 March 2007

He (Persi Diaconis) proved that it takes seven shuffles to perfectly randomize a pack of cards.
Justin Mullins
New Scientist
March 24-30, 2007, p 52

Contributed by Laurie Snell.

We were eleven people obtaining those 30.000 millions. I want the 11% that corresponds to me.
A politician of Madrid in a phone dialogue recorded by the police.
El Pais
20th October, 2006,

Contributed by Carlos Silva.

Keith Crank, Assistant Director for Research and Graduate Education, writes:

Here is a possible entry under Forsooths in Chance News. It comes from a

recent report of the Council of Graduate Schools, titled: Graduate Education The Backbone of American Competitiveness and Innovation. On page 22 of the document, it states, "..., while the majority of students who enter doctoral programs have the academic ability to complete the degree, on average only 50-60 percent of those who enter doctoral programs in the United States complete their degrees."

The report is available here. Given the members of the committee that prepared this report, you would think

someone among them would realize that 50-60% is a majority.

A history of smoking in the US

The Cigarette Century: The rise, fall, and deadly persistence of the product that defined America
Allan M. Brandt, 600 pp.
Basic Books, 2007, Amazon $23.76.

Allen Brandt is Professor of the History of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and a professor in in the Department of History of Science at Harvard University. His book is a complete history of smoking in the U. S. It is divided into five chapters: Culture (how cigarettes came into the American culture), Science, (The Causal Conumbrum), Politics, (The Surgeon General report), Law (The trials of Big Tobacco), and Globalization, (Exporting an Epidemic). While this book will clearly be the bible of smoking you might want to start with some related videos.

For an overall picture of the book you can watch here a lecture Brandt gave about his book.

For the story of the statistics we recommend first watching video 11 (ˇThe Question of Causation') of Against all Odds. Here the history of establishing that smoking causes lung canser is given. (This is free but you have to sign in).

This video was made while the pinoneers were still alive and it is great to see and hear their personal involvment. Here is sample: Doctor Dwight Harken is speaking:

Dr. Wyndor, then a student at St Louis under Dr Everts Graham, came to see me and said "Camel Cigarettes cause cancer of the lungs". I couldn’t believe it and, you know, you see what you look for and look for what you know -- and it never occurred to me that cigarettes caused cancer. So we went to see my patients and at that time I had quite a large practice. We discovered, to our amazement, that patients who had cancer of the lung were 17 times to 1 as apt to be to be two pack a day smokers . So here was a fact trying to tell us something.

In Brandt's book you will find more details about the contribution of Wyndor and Graham as well as well known statiticians such as Richard Dole, Bradford Hill, Jerome Cornfield and others. Brandt observes that many of the current methods for clinical trials had their origin in the attempt to show that smoking caused lung cancer.

to be continued

The Numbers Guy

Annette Georgey recently wrote to the the Isolated Statisticians:

A friend just alerted me to a blog maintained by "The Numbers Guy," a columnist for the Wall Street Journal who writes about probability and statistics in the news. Although the WSJ online is available to subscribers only, the blog is available to all. It contains many great examples for the classroom, written in everyday English, such as the odds of a three-way tie in the TV game show "Jeopardy," understanding statistical significance in recent hormone studies, the Texas lottery, and more.

And don't forget statistician Andrew Gelman's wonderful Blog Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science

Submitted by Laurie Snell

Lies, Damned Lies, and Drug War Statistics

A Critical Analysis of Claims Made by the Office of National Drug Control Policy
Matthew B. Robinson, Renee G. Scherlen, Renee G. Scherl
State University of New York Press, 2007

From the Back Cover:

Book Description:

This book critically analyzes claims made by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), the White House agency of accountability in the nation's drug war. Specifically, the book examines six editions of the annual National Drug Control Strategy between 2000 and 2005 to determine if ONDCP accurately and honestly presents information or intentionally distorts evidence to justify continuing the war on drugs.

The authors have performed a valuable service to our democracy with their

meticulous analysis of the White House ONDCP public statements and reports. They have pulled the sheet off what appears to be an official policy of deception using clever and sometimes clumsy attempts at statistical manipulation. This document, at last, gives us a map of the truth.

Mike Gray
Author of Drug Crazy: How We Got into This Mess and How We Can Get Out
Robinson and Scherlen make a valuable contribution to documenting how

ONDCP fails to live up to basic standards of accountability and

Ethan Nadelmann
Executive Director, Drug Policy Alliance

At Appalachian State University, Matthew B. Robinson is Associate Professor of Criminal Justice, and Renee G. Scherlen is Associate Professor of Political Science. Robinson is the author of several books, including Justice Blind? Ideals and Realities of American Criminal Justice, Second Edition.

Submitted by John Finn