Fall 2007

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

Listed in: First Year Seminar, as FYSE-23


Katherine E. Tranbarger (Section 01)


In 1895 H.G. Wells wrote "Statistical thinking will one day be as necessary for efficient citizenship as the ability to read and write." Today, statistics are cited to sway our opinion on everything from which toothbrush dentists prefer to how crime rates have changed from one political administration to the next. The primary objective of this seminar is not to make an expert data analyst or statistician out of every student, but to equip students with the tools needed to be an educated consumer of statistical information encountered every day in mass media. Through readings of selected books, articles, and advertisements, we'll examine the importance of proper study design and data collection, look at graphical representations both accurate and misleading, and investigate what it really means to say two variables are "correlated" or the difference between two groups is "statistically significant." The course will conclude with real-life examples showing the power of statistical methodology when used appropriately. Among other studies, we'll see how cell phone companies use statistics to detect fraud, how Anthrax outbreaks can be modeled, and even how statistics can be used to catch a mass murderer. First semester. Professor Tranbarger.