11 August 2009

A Really Good Idea (Statistically Speaking)

Posted by Dan Satterfield

If you have not heard of TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) it’s a an invitation only conference in which speakers get at most 20 minutes to discuss their “really good idea”. You can watch many of the presentations online, and I highly recommend them. It’s a lot cheaper than attending the conference. 8,000 Euros, and that’s if you get invited!

I saw one talk on the TED site, over the past weekend, that really grabbed my attention. It was one of those ideas, that I heard and immediately thought, this guy is right!

It’s about how we teach maths. Any science and engineering student, is taught first Algebra, and Trigonometry, as a lead in to the Calculus. This may very well be a bad idea. The one subject, I constantly wish I had more knowledge of is statistics. I rarely see that much calculus in paper on atmospheric science, but I am always looking up something in statistics!

I constantly hear myths that live on and on, because the average person has almost no knowledge of basic probability! This is especially true when it comes to understanding climate. The difference between weather and climate is easy to understand, IF you have a basic knowledge of statistics!

Most of the myths about climate change prey on the likelihood that the average Joe’s knowledge of the subject of statistics is next to nil.

IMHO it should be required for an undergraduate degree in ANY discipline.

Statistical analysis makes short work of nearly every myth you run across on a daily basis, from Astrology to almost every other urban myth. Including my annual dozen requests from people wanting to know what day to cut the onions, to keep them from coming back! (The wooly worm myth will retun in a few weeks!)

Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy has the scoop on a new one. I declare Phil the world expert on these denizens of Bunk.

So, listen to the talk instead of anymore from me: