This post is a public service to these people who tell me that they are going to write a blog and make money “from the advertising revenue”.

In short, it’s a bad idea.

Perhaps you have amazing things to say and you will be one of the tiny, tiny fraction of bloggers who make a lot of money from blogging. I write two blogs, and contribute to a third. This one, I started because I wanted to remember the ideas I had about statistics and programming and have them recorded somewhere I could access from wherever I happen to be traveling. For example, I had a problem with AMOS saying something about “illegal path” every time I tried  to calculate estimates. I don’t use AMOS all that often and I wanted to remember how I solved that for next time it came up. (My next post is on that.) I worked at a large organization where I was told that no one cared what I thought and if I wanted to express my own ideas I should start a blog or something. I started a blog. Also, I quit that job and went to work full-time as president of The Julia Group. Best decision I ever made besides the one to have children.

My second blog I started because I also teach judo and I  thought people who read my judo blog would find occasional forays into relative risk calculation with SAS to be confusing.

ADVERTISING

According to the web hosts, I get a combined 130,000 visits per month, with significantly more going to this blog than the judo one. HOWEVER, according to blogher, which pays me based on some algorithm of theirs, the “real visits” that are not spam bots or web crawlers are less than half of that. Accepting their figures, that still means a half million times a year, someone reads what I ramble on about – and here is the clincher – I make less than $2,000 a year directly from blogging.

I hasten to add that I put almost no effort into SEO marketing or really hustling to get people to read my blog because there is a lot more fun stuff I can think of to do than tweet every fifteen minutes – hey, look what I wrote, hey, look at me, LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME !!!!

If you think that google ad sense is the answer – I have had ad sense on my judo blog for five years. This year, they sent me a check for $104. That’s this year, not this month.

SPONSORED POSTS

An area where I could probably triple how much I make would be sponsored posts. These typically pay from $50-$150, although some are more or less.

What is a sponsored post? I can only tell you my experience – I get an email from someone who says they have a client interested in a post on X. Nine times out of ten, I have no interest in X and I delete it. The only two sponsored posts I’ve written lately were for Blogher and Kaplan University. They were on How to hold a job, raise a family and still be sane at graduation and The Midcareer Pivot

Sponsored posts are a good deal when they come along because they were the sort of thing I would write anyway ,with an ad at the bottom.  I can see where some advertisers might want you to write specifically about their product, a sort of ad in disguise. I’d have a real problem with that, personally.

I think there are a lot more sponsored post opportunities if you are into writing about cooking or doing book reviews, but the kind of books I usually read, like Professional Jquery or Essentials of Biostatistics, are not the type sponsors are looking to have reviewed. You couldn’t pay me enough to read Fifty Shades of Grey.

In short, if you’re doing blogging for the money, unless you really, really like spending your time on social media promoting yourself (and probably not even then), you’d probably make more money per hour bagging french fries at McDonalds.

SO … QUIT BLOGGING?

  • Occasionally, I get clients who have read my blog.
  • It’s an opportunity to get feedback on research ideas I’m tossing around.
  • I can use my blog to disseminate results from research to a far broader audience than read refereed journals.
  • It’s a nice break from “the real work” of programming, writing grants and reports.
  • When I wrote my book on matwork, I posted a lot of rough drafts on my judo blog to get comments.

There are several reasons for blogging … but getting rich quick isn’t one of them and anyone who tells you it is probably plans on getting rich from money people like you giving them money to learn the non-existent secrets.

 

 

Perhaps people wouldn’t be so hesitant to change careers during mid-life if they paid a little bit more attention to start-ups. Having been in start-up mode for the past few years, I’ve read numerous articles with titles like,

  • “Five things you should know about start-ups”
  • “Eleven reasons start-ups fail”
  • “Six keys to start-up success”
  • “Nine start-ups founded by flesh-eating aliens from Planet Zargon”

(Okay, well, maybe I made up that last one.) How does start-up advice apply to mid-career switches? One piece that resonates with me is,

Accept that the company you end up with will bear little resemblance to the one with which you started.

7 Generation Games Logo7 Generation Games is a company that sells adventure games that teach students math. Our focus is upper elementary and middle school. The games are historically accurate, with consultants from the Spirit Lake Dakota Nation and Turtle Mountain Chippewa.

Four years ago, I wanted to create an online program to teach statistics to community college students. I had a lot of cool ideas about routing students to instruction based on the right or wrong answers they gave. Here is what happened – the district administrators I talked to said that they really needed a program to intervene earlier. In many areas, there was a lot more political pressure for public K-12 schools to change than at the community college level. In short, there wasn’t nearly as much market demand for what I wanted to do as for something else in the area of using technology to teach mathematics.

So, I did what most start-ups do when they find the market isn’t there. Pivot. If you’re finding a lack of demand for your skills in the workplace – the job openings for word processors, administrative assistants or middle managers are just not there anymore, then maybe you need to think of yourself as a start-up. As Tom Peters calls it, You, Inc. There is also a really key lesson here for mid-career shifts. Notice I did “something else in the area of using technology to teach mathematics”. I love math and programming and I don’t think I would be happy in a career that did not involve those two things.

Similarly, we hired a Chief Marketing Officer who had a decade of experience in journalism. She’d probably be bored programming and hate it. She writes most of the company blogs, our marketing materials and press releases. Since we’re a small company, she also lends a hand co-authoring grant proposals and scientific reports and writing scripts for some of the instructional videos.

The keys to a successful pivot, whether you’re a person or a start-up, are

  1. Identify a market.
  2. Identify what you really love doing.
  3. Don’t give up before you get really good at it

The intersection of those three is where you want to be. I’ve had people argue with me about each of those points, but I’d argue right back.

If you really love it, a market shouldn’t matter – Um, no. Maybe if you are independently wealthy. If there isn’t a market, maybe it’s a bad idea. Maybe no one really needs embroidered toaster covers. If you can’t make a decent living at it, it’s a hobby.

It doesn’t matter if you love it. Scott Adams of Dilbert fame said that his boss advised against loaning money for someone’s passion, because passionate people aren’t objective about the bottom line. There’s some truth to that, but it’s also true that if you love what you are doing, you’ll stick with it long enough to make it through what Seth Godin refers to as The Dip. In our company, that was a period of several months when the founders worked without pay as we developed our first game. For students, it can be that middle of a graduate program when the excitement of starting has worn off, graduation seems a distant haze and final exams loom right around the corner. If you really love providing health care, teaching or whatever your field, you’ll power through. The other reason it matters if you love it is that you only get one life. I spend 3/4 of my waking hours in my office. I want to spend them happy.

LISTEN CAREFULLY – when I started programming in javascript and PHP I wasn’t all that good at it because I had just started. No one begins as an expert and too many people give up because they aren’t immediately good at statistics, writing lesson plans or taking someone’s blood pressure. What they don’t seem to comprehend is that none of the people to whom they are comparing themselves started out that good, either. Maybe you’ll even fail a course. Let’s hope not, but it happens. Dr. Erich Longie, a friend of mine who was tribal college president, gave this talk to many students:

So what if it takes you five years or even seven years to get your degree? When you walk up to graduate and they hand you that diploma, it’s not going to have a note on the bottom, P.S. It took him seven years. You’ll walk across that stage a college graduate.

Our company didn’t take off making educational technology in 2011, but we’re doing it now, and that’s what matters.

=============

This post is brought to you by Kaplan and Blogher

Whether you’re seeking further success in your current role or a new opportunity, Kaplan University can help you prepare for the exciting possibilities ahead.*

As an accredited university built on more than 75 years of experience,† Kaplan University offers a wide range of career-focused programs designed to develop the skills and knowledge leading employers seek. Our focus: to offer you the most direct educational path to achieve your goals.
Are you ready for a change? Learn more at kaplanuniversity.edu

 

* Kaplan University cannot guarantee employment or career advancement.

† Kaplan University is regionally accredited. Please visit http://www.kaplanuniversity.edu/about/accreditation-licensing.aspx# for additional information about institutional and programmatic accreditation.

Since it’s the weekend – and if you read this blog very often you know I don’t really do weekends but I’m stuck on a plane with no wifi and the wordpress app, so it’s time for Mama AnnMaria’s Advice on Life. Try to control your excitement.

20131213-164022.jpg

Learn how! I mean it. I don’t know how many times I have had the same person ask me the same question over and over. I’m not referring to clients here – they pay me to answer their questions. Complaining about that would be like a waitress complaining people want her to bring them stuff. It’s my job. What does irritate me is everyone else – people I don’t even know who send me an email, people I used to work with, third cousins – basically, anyone who isn’t paying me.

I’ll explain why. As an adult member of society, you are expected to be independent. The meaning of that is “not dependent” as in not depending on me, your roommate or your mom to act as half of your brain.

Here are some things you should be able to figure out how to do by the time you are an adult, by which I mean 18 years old.

  1. Download email using webmail
  2. Edit an image using some kind of software
  3. Write sentences that begin with a capital letter and end in some form of punctuation.
  4. Use Google docs, Microsoft Office, dropbox, Adobe reader and similar software your employer or school might require
  5. Manage your money so you know if you have enough to pay for things you promised to pay
  6. Understand that if you sign a contract, first you READ it so you know what is in it and then you DO what’s in it because that’s the nature of contracts
  7. Handle your own travel arrangements
  8. If you own it – car, computer, cell phone, furnace, whatever – deal with getting it repaired

If you get a new computer and it has OpenOffice or Libre Office instead of Microsoft – figure it out! The two aren’t that different. Don’t complain to me that you know Word and Pages or Google Docs has different features. So what? Adapt! I think Darwin said that was the key to survival and if you can’t even handle a switch from an iPhone to Android without calling me three times your odds in the evolutionary scheme aren’t looking too good.

Imagine yourself as Bob in this scenario,

Bob is traveling to Atlanta next week. He does not know what time his flight is, the hotel he is staying in, how to get a travel advance for the meeting. When he arrives at the hotel (magically), he does not know how to print his boarding pass. When he gets to the meeting (magically), he does not know how to connect the projector to his laptop nor how to get his presentation installed on the laptop, including getting the movie which is a key part of the presentation to run. What should Bob do?

Here is a quick test to see if you are independent, if anywhere in this scenario you imagine yourself calling me, your mom or your one friend who is really good with computers, you are NOT independent. How you work things out is not as important as the fact that you do it by your grown-up self.

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Let’s take the presentation example. When I go somewhere, I bring a copy of my presentation on a flash drive. I also save it on Google drive because if the event has Internet access and an event laptop, I can download it. If they don’t have Internet, I have it on the flash drive. In case they don’t have a laptop, I save the presentation on it and  bring my laptop WITH A CONNECTOR for the projector since I have a Mac and not always does the event have the right cable. If they have not told me in advance they have a projector (or even if they have, if it’s super-important) I bring my own projector.

You know why I have all of those bases covered? Because I figured it out in advance. And don’t even get me started on the “Dude, I forgot!”

Too late.  You forget something once, it’s an honest mistake. Everyone makes one. You forget something twice and it’s a coincidence. The third time, it’s a pattern. Don’t be “that guy”. If everyone else can make the meeting, conference call, deadline despite LA traffic, computer problems and Internet outages, you can too.

Let me fill you in on something  – the real grown-ups in the office DO mind that you are always calling and asking them to install a new operating system, help download a new printer driver, contact the bank about your direct deposit or whatever it is. You know why they know how to do these things? Because they figured it out.

You should, too.

Maria and Eric

One of the problems many students have when first learning statistics is deciding when to reject the null hypothesis. Z is small and low probability means it is not likely to occur so you reject, right? (Wrong!). P > .86 and when you have a large z-score you reject the null hypothesis, so with p = .86 you reject, right? (Wrong!)

Enter Maria and Eric to help us explain z-scores. Eric is 6 foot 4, or 76 inches tall. That is a high number, both in mathematical terms and off of the ground. I want to determine if Eric’s height is significantly different from the mean. I use the heart data set included with the SAS Web Editor to compute mean and standard deviation for an adult male, as so:

proc sort data=sashelp.heart out=temp ;
by sex ;
proc univariate data=temp;
var height  ;
by sex ;

I find that the mean is 67.6 and the standard deviation is 2.7. I then compute my z-score which is the obtained value  of 76 inches, minus the mean value of 67.6 divided by the standard deviation of 2.7. This gives me a z-score of 3.1 which tells me that Eric is 3.1 standard deviations above the mean.

Listen carefully here — there is a SMALL probability of LARGE differences from the mean.

A z-score of 1.96 occurs less than 5% of the time, that is about two standard deviations from the mean. How often does a z-score of 3.1 occur? p < .002. So, even though he is a LARGE difference from the average height,  people who are that tall represent a small proportion of the population.

We would therefore REJECT that null hypothesis that there is NO difference between Eric’s height and the average and conclude that he is significantly taller than average.

Since Maria just sniffed disrespectfully,

I could have told you that!

(I can hear you over the Internet) … we will now examine Maria.

She is 5 foot 4, or 64 inches. The average height for a woman is 62.6 inches and the standard deviation is 2.5.  Her z-score is (64-62.6)/ 2.5 = .56 and the probability of a z-score that high or larger is almost 60%,  p> .59 . So, she differs a SMALL amount from the average and that will happen a LARGE proportion of the time.

SO … would you accept or reject the null hypothesis that Maria is no different than the average height for women? Discuss.

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Splash Screen

 

AnnMaria

It had been a difficult morning in Minot, North Dakota. My husband was in intensive care in Bismarck, 130 miles away. After visiting him for hours the night before, we had gotten home late. The children were late getting up. On the gravel road from our house to the highway, the muffler had come loose and was dragging. I had to crawl under the car in the snow to wire it back on. Finally, I dropped one child off at elementary school and two off at the preschool.

 

Sitting down at my desk to a stack of teaching evaluations, I read the first one:

“Dr. Rousey piles on the homework. She has nothing in her life but statistical analysis, and fails to realize that the rest of us have other things …”

 

Oh, really? Really? I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so I decided to laugh. Yes, I did have four degrees by age 31, and I was younger than many of my graduate students, but I also had three children. Believe me, I knew very well about the challenges people face when they have 36 hours of obligations to fit into a 24-hour day.

 

So, how do you do it?

 

My first piece of advice, which I am a bit of a hypocrite about, is stop trying to be perfect. Graduate students tend to be more motivated and have higher standards than the general public – that’s how they got to graduate level. I can’t tell you the number of students who have been crying in my office or on the phone because they received a poor grade on a test. I teach courses like biostatistics, advanced quantitative data analysis and multivariate statistics. These are not cake courses. No matter how brilliant you are, you make mistakes. I make mistakes. Tonight during a lecture, I gave the wrong answer – I had used the square root of N as the divisor instead of the standard deviation divided by the square root of N. My immediate response was,

 

I can’t believe I did that. I’m such an idiot!

 

Well, I’m NOT an idiot, and you’re not either. Cut yourself some slack. Like me, I’m sure you get distracted – maybe you were in the middle of solving an equation and the phone rang, a child needed lunch money – and you forgot to divide, you forgot to add, or you just misunderstood what formula to use. Give yourself a break, learn from whatever the mistake was and resolve to do better tomorrow. As you can see, I’m not unwavering in following my own advice, but I try, because I realize that much of my stress is of my own making.

I think my students who return to school after ten, twenty or sometimes forty years after their last time in the classroom are amazing and admirable. They could have just ‘retired in place’, go on doing the same job for the next twenty years and just settled for getting by, but they decided they wanted more – to learn more, earn more, be more. I really respect that. Pat yourself on the back a little. You deserve it and it will help you not to feel so depressed about the fact that you haven’t cleaned your bathroom in so long that you are starting to suspect that the mold in there has organized and formed its own government. Your children are going to benefit a whole lot more from that degree you are getting than a lemon-fresh bathtub.

 

Trust me. My daughter was on the Jimmy Kimmel show tonight talking about her childhood and not once did she say,

 

“My mom always ironed all of my underwear.”

 

She was lucky to be able to find clean underwear.

 

My second piece of advice is to identify priorities. That paper due on Thursday – priority. Taking your child to the mall (no matter how much she whines) – not a priority. Attending the Christmas concert in which your child has the starring role – priority.  You don’t have to be there all of the time, but do try to be there the times that matter. If something happens and you just can’t (I was winning the Pan-American Games when my oldest daughter took her first steps) – well, see point number 1.

Since it’s getting late and this post is getting long, I have one more very tangible piece of advice. Start early. DON’T procrastinate. Every course I have ever taught, whether it was online, a three-week summer class or a regular semester course where students sat in rows for 50 minutes, the students who put off studying or writing their papers until the last minute were more likely to fail. Maybe that IS exactly the same advice your mother gave you. Mothers can be pretty smart. Some of them are so smart they’re in graduate school right now.

========================================

This post is brought to you by Kaplan and blogher

Whether you’re seeking further success in your current role or a new opportunity, Kaplan University can help you prepare for the exciting possibilities ahead.*

As an accredited university built on more than 75 years of experience,† Kaplan University offers a wide range of career-focused programs designed to develop the skills and knowledge leading employers seek. Our focus: to offer you the most direct educational path to achieve your goals.
Are you ready for a change? Learn more at kaplanuniversity.edu

 

* Kaplan University cannot guarantee employment or career advancement.

† Kaplan University is regionally accredited. Please visit http://www.kaplanuniversity.edu/about/accreditation-licensing.aspx# for additional information about institutional and programmatic accreditation.

 

 

Today was my most recent experience in the clash of commercial and academic cultures. For seven years, I was an assistant and then associate professor, teaching statistics and research methods, writing articles for academic journals. For five years before that, I was a graduate student at the University of California. I even did a post-doc on an NIH fellowship. All the research things. So, I am well aware, as my colleague at lunch today was telling me, that the National Science Foundation prefers studies where subjects are randomly assigned to experimental and control groups. Randomized controlled trials are the gold standard of research, as the textbook I’m using to teach biostatistics says about every third page.

“Yeah, we’re not doing that.”

In response to her shocked look, I explained,

“Last year, when we did the pilot study for 7 Generation Games, we were able to get a control group but that was before we had our data in that showed the children at the two schools that played our game did significantly better in math. Now, the superintendent of schools is telling me that they want to be in the experimental group, too, because he is not going to face down parents and tell them that their children did not get to use a program that he believes would have helped their children do better in math because — well, what reason could he give them that would be satisfactory? Because it would help us provide more credible evidence to the Institute for Education Sciences? Seriously, why the hell would that parent on an American Indian reservation chance that their child would perform worse in math so that we could get better data for our study? Does that make sense to you? As for randomly assigning them to be in the group to play the game – how can we do that? We can offer it to low-income schools at no cost but if they are over-worked with a hundred competing responsibilities (as many, many teachers are), already have their curriculum planned for the year, are part of some reform that doesn’t allow them to do anything but a specific lesson plan or unwilling/uninterested for any other reason, we cannot MAKE them use the game.”

She nodded that she saw my point but then suggested hopefully that we could do a random assignment by classroom, within school.  I told her that we had that idea, too, but the teachers who used the game and found their students doing better and enjoying math class more shared the link to download the game, and the teacher resource site with other teachers at their school. My colleague exclaimed,

“That’s terrible! You have contamination of implementation!”

I corrected her,

“Or, as the teachers called it, not being an asshole. Look, say you’re a teacher in a school without a lot of resources where children are generally performing below grade level. You get this new game that your kids love to play and they are doing better on their math tests. The teacher next door asks can she get a copy and you say, “No”, because a bunch of researchers want to see how much worse the kids in the class next door will be doing by the end of the year. Of course you don’t do that. You share it with the other teacher because you care about students in your school and you also don’t want her throwing an eraser at you.”

================================================================

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What are we doing to solve our research dilemma? Well, since it is a computer game backed up with a  database of student performance data, we can track how long and how many times each student plays our game. In the pilot study, we found that not only did the intervention classrooms perform better than the controls, but that students who played the game more out-performed those who played less.

An additional possibility is to do a pre-test at our same intervention schools next fall, then a post-test after eight weeks. Start the game in the ninth week of school and then test again after another eight weeks. We do have some schools we could use as control groups but they are so different to not really be helpful – our intervention schools are primarily on or near American Indian reservations, so using control groups in downtown Los Angeles would not be that informative, I don’t think.

A cross-over design has been suggested, but there are those teachers again, who I have to meet with and say,

“Look, I know that we asked you to use this game because we thought it would help your students do better in math and they would enjoy it. Now that it seems to be working, we want you to stop and see if your students do worse for the next couple of months. What do you say, because, you know, science.”

 

I was reading the powerpoints that came with a textbook, you know, in the instructor’s packet, and I was already thinking this book was a little more focused on computation over comprehension for my liking when I came to the following learning objective:

“Compute an Analysis of Variance by hand.”

Are you fucking kidding me? I have given this a lot of thought and I have come to the conclusion, “Just, no”.

You know why? Because this is the year 2013 and we have computers. Now, I’m not saying you cannot compute an ANOVA by hand if that makes you happy. I’m also not saying you should be like my friend from graduate school who answered the question on her comps

“What is the multiple R-squared and how do you get it?”

With

“The multiple R-squared is the square of the multiple R and the computer gives it to you.”

I can tease her about this now because she passed her exams the second time around and earned tenure over a decade ago. Contrary to what you think at moments like that, not only WILL you live it down, you will go on to laugh about it.

There will be those who say, “What if your computer doesn’t work?” In that case, I think I’d have more pressing issues on my mind, like getting my computer to work. For one thing, I’m going to assume that you are not just finding sums of squares due to your complete absence of a social life but rather are part of some organization that has an interest in sums of squares, and also probably has more than one piece of hardware. In my case, if one computer doesn’t work, I have two more in my office and four more upstairs. Of course, one each is currently occupied by The Spoiled One and The Invisible Developer, but I’m pretty certain if it came right down to it, I could wrestle a computer away from almost anyone in this group and that includes the dog. (She’s a Dogo Argentino, in case you wondered.)

lovely family

Take tonight, for example. I am very, very annoyed because my class is using the SAS Web Editor and for some unknown reason the site has been down for the past 10 hours. Apparently, SAS has concluded that no one would ever do homework late at night or on weekends so there is no point in having the On-Demand for Academics available.

I do have SAS on my desktop, but that would involve switching over to boot camp. I also have SPSS but again, that would require restarting in Windows which I don’t feel like doing because I’m in the middle of writing a lecture. I installed Office 2010 on my laptop, was dismayed to find that there is no longer a data analysis tool pack for the Mac – yes, I do know it quit shipping with VBA at 2008 – and the third-part stat pack doesn’t do much.

So, what is the conclusion? Well, I guess I’ll see if the SAS Web Editor is up tomorrow. If not, I’ll finish the class that ends this month and go on to finally learn R. I thought the Web Editor was a great idea but you can’t run a program in the cloud that goes down for 14 hours and no one in your organization seems to notice. One of the reasons I have stuck with SAS is that they do have really cool statistical procedures, their model selection procedures are a neat idea and there is generally an enormous legacy of good stuff. I thought perhaps by moving to a web-based model SAS could recover some of the market share it has been losing, maybe even have both something students could use while in school and a product they could use once they graduated by paying a monthly use fee like Adobe has for its Creative Suite.

Contrast this with pair.com which we use for things like email, our MySQL databases, running our PHP scripts. I love pair. They have 24/7 support and not by some person reading out of a manual, but a person who can actually help you. Downtime on pair over the last several years (that we’ve noticed), hasn’t been more than two hours, total, and when we called them, they were already aware of it and able to fix it in under 30 minutes.

In fact, we’re already migrating away from SAS and for small clients that can’t afford a SAS license and require basic statistics, writing their applications in PHP and MySQL.

There are two points here.

First, nowhere in this situation did I think,

“You know what I need to do? I need to start computing statistics by hand, using a pencil and a piece of paper, like I did when I was in graduate school in 1978.”

Second, using SAS is becoming as laborious as computing statistics by hand.  Yes, it’s great if you have it installed on your desktop (and that is often a whole kettle of fish in itself), but that is often thousands of dollars per seat. The Web Editor is a great idea but if it isn’t available, it’s not so great.

Here are your choices – using something that’s thousands of dollars, use something that’s free but doesn’t always work when you need it or use something that’s free and you can download on your desktop. I don’t know that I’m ready to give up on SAS completely let but I have to admit that I see why so many universities have gone to R.

 

It’s that time of year again when we hear complaints about how terrible the U.S. is doing in math. This article by The Atlantic with the title American Schools vs. the World: Expensive, Unequal, Bad at Math is just one of many, many reports that showed up in my twitter stream.

The first question anyone who has had more than a week of statistics should ask is about the sampling. Didn’t anyone notice that the top “country” is not a country at all but a city. The article goes on to say “parts of China, Japan, Korea and Liechtenstein topped the ratings… ”

Wait, what? PARTS of China?

As a statistician, I am intensely interested in just how representative these parts of China might be. So, I track this down in another article, since many of those in the U.S. didn’t bother to investigate, I tracked this information on the demographics of the sample down from an article written for The Guardian by a correspondent in Beijing,

Its population is less than 2% of the country’s total, and its per capita GDP is more than twice the national average. According to Tom Loveless, an expert on education policy at Harvard University, 84% of its high school graduates enroll in college, compared with 24% nationwide.

I’m not saying that U.S. education could not use improvement. (Although the more I work with the Common Core Standards for mathematics, the more I’m convinced they have been over-hyped. ) What I am saying is that calls for improvement should be based on well-reasoned arguments that have some understanding of science – random sampling being a good start. It is also worth noting that the same article in The Guardian mentioned that 12 provinces in China had students take the test but only the results for one CITY were released.

There were also several articles that discussed Finland “slipping”, math scores 7 points, from 548 to 541.  A lot of potential explanations and remedies were given in this Washington Post blog, sadly, none of which mentioned regression towards the mean, sampling error or the nature of the test itself. Also, there is the question of how much in absolute terms that difference really means. Children don’t answer 600 questions. They’ll answer a test with 50 or 60 questions which will then be normed to, say, a mean of 500 with a standard deviation of 100. That drop may well represent that the average child answered 43.7 questions correctly last year and 43.2 questions correctly this year.

Then, there are the host of articles that went on about how the sky is falling because countries that have low PISA scores are also those who do poorly economically and therefore China is going to eat our lunch. Don’t even get me started on correlation and causation.

All of this has led me to conclude that the PISA data are unclear on whether or not American (and Finnish) children are really doing that terribly in math, but have led to the firm conclusion that most journalists’ articles that I read could certainly use a refresher in statistics. (See how I did not generalize to all journalists in the entire world? Take note.)

In fairness, the very same Washington Post had another blog on how public opinion is being manipulated  using the PISA findings. Is it or is it not an outlier? Discuss.

One of the questions I get asked a lot is

“How do you get so much done?”

I sometimes think that growing up without advantages can be an advantage.

For example, when I was a kid, I never had my own room. I always shared it with my sister, or sometimes my sister and my youngest brother. It never occurred to anyone to be quiet so I could get some sleep or study. In fact, I’m certain that if I had suggested such a thing at least two of my brothers would have been louder just on general principle.

I never had a desk growing up. I did my homework wherever I could find a spot to sit and be out of the way. Sometimes it was the dining room table, but just as often on my bed, sitting outside, or even in the attic. Since no one told me I was supposed to have a spot to study, quiet and a lack of interruptions, I was never bothered in the least by any of this.

Grading papers at Ronda's practiceFor all of my life, I have been able to work anywhere and sleep anywhere. Darling Daughter Number 3 was in two Olympics. This meant that I spent an inordinate amount of my time for years sitting in bleachers while she practiced. Almost all of that time was spent grading papers, like tonight, or writing grants or doing data analysis. I spend countless hours in planes and airports every month. When the plane is taking off, I pull out articles I printed out to read for the latest proposal or publication I’m working on. When the plane hits 10,000 feet, I go right to writing or programming and can usually get four solid hours of work done while flying cross-country.

This isn’t the same as multi-tasking, really. I think the whole multi-tasking idea is a myth. I try having a conversation with someone while programming and it is usually a failure. I either miss what they are saying or delete a line I wanted to leave in – it’s not a good idea.

No, the secret to being productive isn’t always doing two things at once, it’s never doing nothing.

Waiting at the DMV, the Social Security office or on hold for some humorously named “customer service” representative, I can easily whip out 30 minutes of work.

Sure there is work, like a game design or coding that is best done in blocks of uninterrupted time. Guess how you get those blocks? By doing all of the 5- and 10-minute tasks, like answering that email or grading that paper while you’re waiting for your child to be done at practice.

 

This month, I’m teaching biostatistics for National University, and so far I am really enjoying it. There is just a really minor problem, though. While I received a copy of the textbook, I did not receive a copy of the instructor’s manual with answers to the homework problems. Since I am going to grade 20 people based on whatever I get, I need to be 100% correct in everything and it is taking up my time to computer Cumulative Incidence for the population, cumulative incidence for people with hypertension, population attributable risk –  and I am busy.

So, check this out, and all of you epidemiologists, I am sure this is old hat to you …. I had a table that gave me the number of people who were and were not hypertensive and whether or not they had a stroke in the five years they were followed. I wanted cumulative incidence for those with hypertension, those without and the population attributable risk.

And here we go …..

DATA stroke ;
INPUT  Event_E Count_E Event_NE Count_NE;
DATALINES ;
18  252  46  998
;

proc stdrate data=stroke
refdata=stroke
method=indirect(af)
stat=risk
;
population event=Event_E  total=Count_E;
reference  event=Event_NE total=Count_NE;
run;

 

All I need to do is create a data set where I give the number of people who were exposed, (in this case, who had hypertension) who had the event,  a stroke, in my example, and the total number of exposed people. Then, the number not exposed (that is, not hypertensive) who had the event, and the total number not exposed.

I just invoke the PROC STDRATE giving it the name of my dataset and specifying that I wanted risk as the statistics.

In my POPULATION statement, I specify that for the population of interest, people with hypertension, the number who had the event was found in the variable Event_E and the total number was in Count_E .

In my REFERENCE statement, I give the number who had the event and the total number for people who were not exposed to the risk factor.

That’s it.

output showing cumulative incidence and risk