Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Motivating statistics, and vanity

[Random book review]
I just finished reading "Freakonomics", which talks about using statistics/data mining to answer various interesting real-life questions like why [apparently] lots of crack dealers still live with their mothers, how to catch teachers cheating on behalf of their students on standardized tests etc. From that perspective, I think the book could serve as a useful motivating tool for statistics professors: have their students read this book and then redo some of the analyses described, using techniques taught in class.

That said, there was one thing about the book that rubbed me the wrong way: every chapter is preceded by a breathless passage [like this] from a 2003 NYT Magazine article
about how brilliant Steven Levitt [one of the authors of the book] is. As if that isn't obnoxious enough, it gets worse -- that article was written by Stephen Dubner, the second author of the book. I'm tempted to ask whether they dislocated their shoulders slapping themselves on the back. And what the hell is a "rogue economist" [as Steven Levitt is described on the book cover] anyway ? I have visions of a skinny man in a tweed jacket and glasses snorting and pawing at the ground before charging at a statue of Adam Smith and trying to bite it ...

2 Comments:

Blogger Son1 said...

Also check out the blog for the book, which is somewhat interesting, and with less hagiography (I think). And if you want some time-wasting fun, start reading the comments, which have been infected (as all reasonable fora inevitably must) by Steven Sailor. Hilarious.

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