Fun with Statistics


Statistics is a science that makes order out of a mess. It studies data, detects and analyzes patterns, and utilizes them to make predictions. We use it daily, packing or ordering school lunches for our kids and analyzing past experiences to predict what they are likely to eat or not. We rely on it when making a credit card payment over the phone and trying to convince the voice recognition system that we would like to use the same bank account on file. However, I always find myself in the outliers: "I said Yes, I didn't say ten dollars!"

Statistics is also a touchy topic. A slightly different analysis of the same data or even a slightly different presentation of the same data could lead to vastly different results. Famous British intellectual and politician, Benjamin Disraeli, once said "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." So, make sure to have your lawyer by your side when making any kind of statistical statement. And, be scrupulous when trusting any statistical results.

This week TED posted an entertaining short talk that utilized statistics to tell people how to give the best TED talk. What is TED? It is an online community of "riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world." Every invited talk is video recorded and available online to enjoy, learn and rate. Sebastian Wernicke analyzed how seemingly superficial talk parameters. such as the color of power-point slides, the color of a presenter's clothes, and more logical parameters, like talk length and key sentences, affect TED talk rating. And he has a recipe for you: when invited to give a TED talk, wear blue or green, stick to the same color for your slides, talk long and talk about French coffee, happiness and the brain, and do not mention "The New York Times." Well worth watching (8 min):
Sebastian Wernicke: Lies, damned lies and statistics (about TEDTalks)

Top image by kgradinger, distributed under Creative Commons license

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