Chance News 31
Statistics are no substitute for judgment.Henry Clay
The following Forsooth from the Nov. 2007 issue of RSS NEWS.
The odds of an $18 million Lotto win are one in 30 million but in the tiny Northland town of Kaeo they've been slashed to just one in 500. The town is abuzz with gossip that it could be home to New Zealand's biggest ever Lotto winner but Far North district councillor Sue Shepherd says the 500 residents are keeping their cards, and their tickets, close to their chest.The Dominion Post, New Zealand
22 May 2006
Using Statistics to bust myths
The MythBusters Answer Your Questions Stephen J. Dubner, Freakonomics Blog, October 25, 2007.
"The MythBusters" is a television show on The Discovery Channel where Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage examine commonly held myths and see if they have any validity. Their prior experience was in movie special effects and stunts, and sometimes their experiments lead to big (but carefully controlled) explosions. They were interviewed on the Freakonomics blog, and their were a pair of the questions asking why they didn't use more Statistics in their investigations.
"Q: Often, when testing a myth, you conduct one full scale test and then draw your conclusions. I know you are both aware of the scientific method and the need to run multiple trials to fully prove or disprove a theory. How confident are you that when you’ve run one test on a myth, you can then accurately capture whether or not it is true?"
"Q: How much statistics training do you guys have, and how much statistics do you use off camera? I get frustrated with the show over what appears to be a lack of statistical knowledge and rigor. (I’m thinking of the “football kick with helium” episode in particular, but the issue is sort of endemic to the show.) I realize that statistics makes for bad TV, while building machines that shoot things and break things make good TV. So the Freakonomics-y question would be: how much of this type of stuff is hidden off-camera?"
Both Jamie and Adam point out the time and budget limitations and remind us that the show has to be entertaining as well as illustrate a scientific approach to investigation. Adam does admit that he'd like to include more statistics, though.
ADAM: These two (very difficult), questions are similar, so I’ll answer them together. I would love to get more statistics into the show, and I’ve been talking to a statistician friend about just that. It’s true that statistics are not very telegenic, and are often difficult to get across.
We do worry about consistency, and it’s usually because our data sets are so small. With larger sets, we can work with things like standard deviation; but with a data set of 2, we don’t have that luxury.
Also, I sense a frustration in some of these questions. I’ll say this: I don’t pretend to be a scientist. We’re not deliverers of scientific truth. But I am curious. And if there’s one complaint I have about people, it’s that most of them aren’t curious enough to look around and figure stuff out for themselves. So if you’re yelling at me at the TV, you’re involved, and as such, I’ve done my job.
1. Is it true that statistics are not very telegenic? Are there any aspects of Statistics that would lend themselves to a medium like television?
2. The Discovery Channel website has an episode guide. Select a show and explain how statistics could be used to investigate the myth(s) on that episode.
Submitted by Steve Simon