A First Approach to Understanding Statistics

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Created: January 24, 2003
Latest Update: January 24, 2003

jeannecurran@habermas.org
takata@uwp.edu

A First Approach to Understanding Statistics

Site Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individual Authors, January 2003.
"Fair use" encouraged.

The thing about statistics, folks, is that you need to understand it. Not memorize a handful of formulas and plug in numbers and do arithmetic with them. We have computers for that. I know, I know. If the computer breaks down, what on earth will you do? Wait until they fix it. And I certainly hope they won't ask you, after this single class, to fix it. If they do, things are definitely too far gone. Fake a positive attitude, and don't worry about it anymore.

So how do you learn to understand statistics? Well, Dewey answered that question in the 1930's. You learn it by doing it. With common sense, not with mathematics. We'll let the computers do the mathematics. If you're lucky enough to be in my class at CSUDH, we have a roomful of computers some of which almost always work. Find some that work and gather round them. If you're not so lucky, you'll need to find a friend who has access to a computer with SPSS or one of the other statistical packages. Ply them with sweets and favors, and get them to run the statistics for you.

Actually in one assignment I'm going to assume that none of you have computers available, so you'll have to get a friend to run the statistics for you. Why? Because five years from now you aren't going to remember half of this stuff, and you probably won't have a computer with a statistical program in your office or your home. So you better know how to tell someone who does what it is that you need. Even if you still have a student program, which you can buy from SPSS, (for what I consider an outrageous sum, but they think is reasonable and fair), it will have been superceded by forty-two new versions, so it may not suffice for what you want. So, Marlene, you might be able to make Tina's old program work for you, but then again, you might not. Beware.

Discussion Questions

1. What is the United Nations trying to do with this technical report? Why do you suppose they need to write a report like this? Does it make any sense to want such statistics? Why?

At first glance, this may seem like gibberish. But, in fact, it makes a lot of sense. Read Statistics Division of the United Nations, Publications

"In this technical report, part one, "Promoting the improvement of social statistics in developing countries", outlines a general strategy for the development and integration of social statistics programmes in developing countries. It is concerned primarily with the practical problems of organizing and implementing integrated programmes for improving social statistics. It examines the nature and purpose of social statistics, the rationale for a programme to improve them, the uses to which they can be put and the value of placing them in a co-ordinated general framework for integration, presented in part two. It suggests possible ways of developing practical and viable statistical operations to make social statistics more relevant, sufficient, timely and co-ordinated. Part two, "Framework for the integration of social and demographic statistics in developing countries", presents a conceptual outline and a discussion of technical methods for improving and integrating social, demographic and related economic statistics that may be feasible for developing countries to apply in the medium-term future, consonant with their statistical and social circumstances and priorities for improving the welfare and living conditions of their populations. The approach presented is one of step-by-step integration and systematization of social statistics and social indicators, fully integrated with the continuous development of the required basic statistics in social, demographic and related fields."

The report itself is available as a pdf file: Improving Social Statistics in Developing Countries.

2. More soon. jeanne