Randomness, statistics and understanding

So here I am, sitting in a statistics workshop, having finished all the exercises ahead of time, musing on how much easier all this stuff is once you understand where it all comes from. This made me think that I have found this workshop more understandable and simpler to tackle because I have pretty much finished reading a marvellous little book called ‘The Drunkard’s Walk’ by Leonard Mlodinow.

Mlodinow aims to educate the reader about randomness and statistics, by way of history and illustrative example, and he succeeds admirably. The book is a walk through mathematics from the Greeks and Romans, by way of the renaissance, to Einstein and the modern day. Each important advance toward the modern day study of statistics is illustrated with excellent examples and anecdotes, many of them personal to the author. The Monty Hall problem, the anomoly of Jeanne Calment, who reverse-mortgaged her apartment to a 47 year old lawyer when she was 90, only to outlive him (and he died aged 77), even the author’s own (false) positive AIDS test makes for an intriguing case study, and illustrates the importance of understanding prior probabilities when reporting the results of a test.

The setting of all this stuff in context has really helped my brain with the basic concepts, and even without this current course, I feel like I’ve got a much better grip on statistics in general. A remarkable claim for a popular science book. I look forward to the remaining 30 or so pages.

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