Letter to a Young College Student Who Dreads the Idea of Taking Statistics in the Fall


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Stats - unhappy face

Fear of taking statistics is normal — like this curve. But you can do something this summer to make it easier.

Two of the topics that I most enjoyed teaching as a social science professor were Statistics and Research Methods.  Statistics, in particular, scares the hell out of some students.  I’m here to suggest something to you this summer than can make it much easier for you — without subjecting yourself to the terrors of numbers.

Purchase, borrow, rent, or steal (not really steal) — and then read — the following 300 page paperback book:

The Elementary Forms of Statistical Reason,” by Cuzzort and Vrettos.

I see that Amazon is selling used copies for as little as a penny plus shipping.

Read it before you go. It’s an entire book about concepts of statistics that contains only a single (unavoidable, but bearable) equation, the Binomial Theorem. Other than that, it’s about how to conceive of notions like the central tendency and variability/diversity of a distribution, the differences between describing and making an inference from that description, types of variables, and measuring the associations between variables and the effects of causative variables upon others, and how to think about probability and causality.

THIS IS STUFF YOU ALREADY KNOW ABOUT!  You just haven’t learned to think about it as formally — or, and I know my saying this may rankle you, AS WELL — as you’re about to.

Some wonderful people — many of them dedicated to using knowledge to solve social problems — have dedicated their lives to assessing and refining these concepts.  They believe that those of us on the side of truth and proof want the tools we can use to establish both to be as good as possible. As activist should respect those efforts.  Disagree with them, sure — you’ll have plenty of company.  But the basics — the sorts of things in this non-math book — apply to qualitative as well as quantitative research.

You need to understand these concepts — not so much because it will make you a better student, or a better person, or even a better activist.

They will make you a better researcher, a better critic, and better able to convey what you know. You may not like the math, and most of that can be consigned to a computer, but finally understanding what you already know but haven’t been able to articulate — that’s what statistical reasoning is about — will blow your mind.

If I know you, I can loan you the $3.50 until January.  But that’s part of a terrible deal on my part — because my condition is that, when your class is over, you have to pay me what it’s worth!


About Greg Diamond

Worker's rights attorney now moving into "good governance" litigation. North Vice Chair of Democratic Party of Orange County and occasional candidate. Proud to be prolix. Unless otherwise specifically stated, his writings never speak for the Democratic Party at the local, county, state, national, or galactic level. He tries to either suppress or openly acknowledge his partisan, issue, ideological, and "good government" biases in most of his writing here. If you have a question about any particular writing, just ask him about it and (unless you are an pseudonymous troll) he will probably answer you at painful length. He lives in Brea but generally doesn't blog about it. A family member works as a campaign treasurer for Wendy Gabriella in AD-73; he doesn't directly profit from that relatively small compensation and it doesn't affect his coverage. He does advise some campaigns informally and without compensation, although in 2014 he may receive some compensation for campaign consulting and fundraising for the campaign of Jorge Lopez for Orange County Assessor.