deer in back yardWhat do a herd of deer and a sea lion have to do with statistics?

Friday, I was on the Spirit Lake Dakota Nation in North Dakota. Most of the time while I was there, I spent at the Spirit Lake Vocational Rehabilitation Project, an impressively effective group of people who help tribal members with disabilities get and keep jobs. A few years back, I wrote a system to track their data using PHP and MySQL. It is deliberately simple because they wanted a basic database that would give reports on the number of people served, how many had jobs, and some demographic information. A research project used SAS to analyze the data to try to identify predictors of employment.

Due to a delayed flight, I spent the night with my friend in Minot, discussing, among other things, the decline in native speakers of Cree, and not the herd of deer in her backyard, which was common place enough to pass without comment.

harbor at night

Saturday, I was back home in California, on a dinner cruise in Marina del Rey. We were discussing how to analyze the data on persistence in our games to show that the re-design, with a longer lead-in story line and a higher proportion of game play early on was effective. I suggested maybe we could use survival analysis. Really, it’s the same scenario as how many people are alive after 2, 3 or 4 months or how many people kept playing the game after the 2nd, 3rd or 4th problem.sea lion on dock

The deer, the large loud sea lion on the dock and I spent the exact same amount of time discussing the probability mass function for a Poisson distribution and proving the Central Limit Theorem.

My point is, that everywhere I go, and that is a REALLY broad range of places, people are interested in the application of statistics, but SO much of school is focused on teaching how to compute the area under the normal curve or how to prove some theorem or computing coefficients using a calculator and plugging numbers into a formula, inverting matrices. I’m not sure how helpful that was to a student and I can guarantee you that the last time I computed the sums of squares without using a computer was about 35 years ago.

Whether you are are using SAS, SPSS, Excel, R, JMP or any one of a dozen other statistical packages, it lets you focus on what’s really important. Does age actually predict whether or not someone is employed (in this case, no)? Do rural school districts have fewer bureaucratic barriers ? Is this a reliable test? Did students who played these games improve their math scores?

When I was young, and many of the current statistical packages were either very new and limited or didn’t yet exist, someone asked me if I was worried that I would be out of a job. I laughed and said no, because what computers were replacing was the computational part of statistics, and except for that tiny proportion of people who were going to be developing new statistics, the jobs were all going to be in applying formula, not proving them and sure as hell not computing them with a pencil and a piece of paper. A computer allows you to focus on what’s important.

What IS important? That’s a good question and another post.


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girl in jungle

This post DOES relate to you, I am almost certain. Keep reading. As I type this post very slowly, I’m trying to use all 10 fingers.  You see, for a few years, I had a real problem with my left thumb due to arthritis. It hurt so badly I couldn’t really use it at all and so I only used 9 fingers to type. This causes problems because my hands are in the wrong place on the key board so I quite often inadvertently do things like save bookmarks because I’m clicking on the mousepad with my palm. My right should her has problems from being in an odd position as I type. Now, here is the stupidity of all of this – MY THUMB IS FINE NOW. Last year, I had surgery called thumb arthoplasty and now I could type with all 10 fingers but it is such a habit to type with 9 that it is really hard to break and I have to consciously work at it. This 9-finger habit is probably like a lot of habits that cause you problems; 1) it came about because if I didn’t do it, it caused me pain, 2) I have had it for years, 3) I did it without thinking, even when it was no longer necessary, and 4) I have other options, but they’ll take effort to adopt.

Let me give you another example. Darling Daughter Number Three has made some serious money over the last few years. In her teens and early twenties, she was seriously broke and had to watch every dime. Last week, she was the keynote speaker at the Walk for Apraxia and she also substituted for me teaching my judo class.

Ronda a.k.a. DD3 giving out medals

Ronda a.k.a. DD3 giving out medals

Both times she had to make a 5-hour round trip in LA traffic and she was telling me how tired she was. I told her,

For the love of God, you make enough money, take a Lyft!

Okay, maybe you didn’t make millions of dollars last year or have a body part replaced. However, I think it’s very likely you have habits that are causing you problems. For example, I used to worry ALL of the time about damn near everything. One of my worries was money. I was always worried about money. Not in a healthy making sure we had enough in the bank to pay the bills way, but in an OH MY GOD IF WE GO ON VACATION WHAT IF I CAN’T GET ANY MORE CONSULTING CONTRACTS AND WE DON’T SELL  ANY GAMES AND I END UP LIVING IN A DUMPSTER way. As a result, I hadn’t taken a vacation in years and worked every day but my Christmas. I know many people who are the same way. They won’t take time off, go to the dentist or they worry constantly when they do but their worries are far out of proportion to their actual situation. Once, they were poor and did have to worry about being homeless without that next paycheck. That time is long past but the habit is still there.

By the way, buy our games. We even have free games to download if you’re a cheapskate

One last one, and this is maybe the most pervasive – the habit of not trusting anyone. Maybe you grew up in a very dysfunctional environment. If you showed any vulnerability at all people took advantage of you. They mocked you for being stupid if you didn’t know something. They told you that any goal you mentioned as beyond your capability. Now, you don’t admit it if you need help even though there are plenty of people around to help you. You act as if you don’t care whether you achieve something, be it college graduation, winning a medal or the next promotion – so people who would go to great efforts to help you get there don’t bother.

Anyway, my flight is boarding so I am sure you can think of your own examples. I was going to write about Fisher’s exact test today, but this idea of habits as been on my mind a lot lately.

basketball

I saw this poster in a high school, supposedly said by a basketball coach:

People say, “Follow your dreams. ” I say, “Forget your dreams, kid, follow math.”

He goes on to give the percentage of high school athletes who compete in college – 3.4% for men’s basketball, by the way, 1% of high school athletes make it in Division I. Even if you make it to the college level, your odds of becoming a professional athlete are dismal – 1.1% of college basketball players make it to the major professional teams, yes, that is 1% of 1%, so you have a .01% chance of making it into the Lakers even if you are playing in high school.

If you are that 1 in 10,000 who makes it on the roster, your median salary will be $3.7 million and you will play for around 4.8 years, giving you a career salary of around $18.5 million.

Let’s say you are a statistician with a Ph.D.  With 5-9 years of experience, your median salary is around $130,000. In my experience, it is going to be considerably less your first year but go up fairly rapidly. Let’s say you have the sense to get some scholarship and grant funds to pay for your tuition – my total student loan debt was $900 – and that you graduate in your 30s – I was 31 and that was with taking a few years out to work as an engineer. There isn’t any particular reason you have to retire before 65 or 70. It’s not like your knees go out and they fire you from your statistician job.  I’m going to give a ballpark figure of $150,000 a year average over those 36 years, which is turns out to be about the median salary for a statistician who doesn’t work in academia, according to the American Statistical Association. You’re at $5.4 million. That’s not counting 36 years of health insurance, 401 K and other benefits like not having a boss who is referred to as your “owner” , which I personally find kind of creepy weird, but you also have to consider you don’t get all the $5.4 million at once, either.

So, let’s present this to you:

  • You have a 1 in 10,000 chance of making $18.5 million
  • You have a 55 out of 100 chance of making $5.4 million.

You can only buy one ticket. Which lottery ticket do you buy?

Oh, by the way, did I mention you have a 90 out of 100 chance of making over $3 million ?

The coach’s point was that you may be dreaming about a spot in the NBA but you have a much greater chance of success in life if you spend your time in the math class instead of on the court. As a good friend of mine often says, “Too many people confuse wishes with plans.”

So, you may dream of slam dunks in the NBA but you would be a lot better off planning to take Calculus, several statistics courses and study a field like business, psychology, political science or epidemiology where you can apply those statistics.

You might think I don’t have any heart, that I have no idea what it means to dream of being a successful athlete. Actually, you’d be wrong. I ran track in college. I won the world championships in judo. Then, the next year, I went into a Ph.D. program and specialized in statistics because, well, I’m good enough at math to see what had the better probability of paying off in the future.

There are SO many ways to learn and use statistics. That’s another post, though. I’d best toddle off to bed since I need to catch a plane tomorrow after I go do a charity walk in the morning.

Early morning and snow, two things I hate the most. Well, life can’t be perfect all the time. I think I can prove that statistically.

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pyramid