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

Prolix worker's rights and government accountability attorney. General Counsel of CATER, the Coalition of Anaheim Taxpayers for Economic Responsibility, a non-partisan group of people sick of local corruption. Deposed as Northern Vice Chair of DPOC in April 2014 when his anti-corruption and pro-consumer work in Anaheim infuriated the Building Trades and Teamsters in spring 2014, who then worked with the lawless and power-mad DPOC Chair to eliminate his internal oversight. Runs for office sometimes, so far to offer a challenge to someone nasty who would otherwise have run unopposed. Someday he might pick a fight intending to win it rather than just to dent someone. You'll know it when you see it. None of his pre-putsch writings ever spoke for the Democratic Party at the local, county, state, national, or galactic level. A family member works part-time as a campaign treasurer. He doesn't directly profit from that relatively small compensation and it doesn't affect his coverage. (He does not always favor her clients, though she might hesitate to take one that he hated. He does advise some local campaigns informally and generally without compensation. If that changes, he will declare the interest. He also runs a less frequently published blog called "The Brean," for his chosen hometown, where he is now fighting with its wealthiest and most avaricious citizen-donors. This just seems to be his way.