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Monday, September 04, 2006

Statistics in Life 8

Entry EightThis journal wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the two biggest scapegoats in American society…Bill Gates and El Nino. First, Bill Gates…a recent article cited the (not so astonishing) fact that Gates income is more than the poorest 70% of all U.S citizens…and growing. Now, what could that possible have to do with El Nino? Well plenty in a correlational (as opposed to causal) manner. Bill Gates has become a sort of measuring rod for fortune, influence, and fame around the world…in much the same way El Nino has become the basis for all weather, financial, and social forcasts recently. Both are based on statistical models that represent relationships between these phenomena and "the rest of us" or "the normal patterns". In some strange twist, the sample has become the basis of comparison. Now, as little as I know about statistics, I do know this is not healthy. Statistics represents life in tidy little packages that are much easier to digest than the high fat content of daily living… these statistical models have counterparts in the social sciences, physical realm, and most areas of life. As we attempt to further out understanding by making acceptable levels of risks (=level of significance), there is a tendency to concentrate of the findings more than the measuring rod. In the case of Bill Gates, he is a skewed score in a sample…although he exists far in the tails of that distribution, he is not the measuring rod itself. The same for El Nino. There is much to be learned from understanding the rare event, but I do not think a cause can ever be identified…afterall, it cant be generalized to the population. There is a factor that remains, in math I suppose it is a weighted mean…but given any sample, there is such a great impact to be made by one person or one phenomena; and it can be measured on some scale. That measure may not be exact, it may not provide answers we would like, but it does remind us of the influence of one solitary point. I am not a Bill Gates or El Nino fan, but there is something about each that intrigues me…so I, like many others, follow the events of each of these through an endless stream of statistics beyond my comprehension. I am fascinated by the attempt to describe rare events.


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