Thursday, April 22, 2010

Statistics: Who Needs Them ?

"A passion for statistics is the earmark of a literate people." - Paul Fisher

My newest project is that of calculating statistics for the softball league and posting them to the sports website. When I got the first batch of numbers, I had to ask my husband what they all meant and he happily brought me our huge hardcopy of John Thorn’s “Total Baseball: The Official Encyclopedia of Major League Baseball” so that I could fully understand and appreciate the history behind the stats tables.

I got the first table up and went outside, hoping I had gotten it right. I’m one of those people who can’t sleep if a little detail is wrong. “What’s the big deal – it’s just a little girl’s game, right?” I imagined what someone might say if they knew how worked up I had gotten about getting it right. Then I remembered back to the statistics courses I had taken, and eventually student-taught, as part of my psychology degree. “Why do we have to know all this? Of what use are all these calculations?” students would constantly moan.

One of the basic calculations is that of the average. Average can statistically mean one of several things, and if you don’t know that you will walk through life letting the newspapers report to you whichever of those fits the news they want you to believe. It can mean “mode”, or the most recurring number or other value, as in: The average person has brown hair. It can mean “median”, or the number that falls right in the middle, as in: The average person lives in a $200,000 house. The only type of average that mathematically means anything is that of “mean”, which is the sum divided by the number of values, usually resulting in a decimal, as in: The average person has 2.2 kids and half a dog.

Statistics can be as accurate as you want them to be. My professor used to tease me because I always liked to carry my calculations to the third decimal. The decimals can go on and on as far as you want to take them.

Statistics are used to objectify information that is used for decision-making. How do we know who is the best teacher, best student, or best ball player? By their statistics. This takes out the human factor so that everyone can see a rational justification for someone being appointed for a position or an award. Statistics make things fair.

Statistics are used by scientists to study the world. Every experiment is analyzed by statistics to come up with scientific conclusions. Lots of experiments are repeated and meta-analyzed to further generalize a theory. Statistics help us to discover and understand about God’s creation.

Little kids playing baseball or softball can look at their numbers and know that they can improve them through practice. As they see their decimals increase in value they can have the satisfaction that comes with improving their game, just as a runner strives to decrease the time it takes to run a mile.

Statistics speak the truth and enlighten us towards wisdom – and all that testifies to the light comes from God.

Chapter 8 (NAB)
Does not Wisdom call, and Understanding raise her voice?
On the top of the heights along the road, at the crossroads she takes her stand;
By the gates at the approaches of the city, in the entryways she cries aloud:
"To you, O men, I call; my appeal is to the children of men.
You simple ones, gain resource, you fools, gain sense.
"Give heed! for noble things I speak; honesty opens my lips.
Yes, the truth my mouth recounts, but the wickedness my lips abhor.
Sincere are all the words of my mouth, no one of them is wily or crooked;
All of them are plain to the man of intelligence, and right to those who attain knowledge.
Receive my instruction in preference to silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold.
(For Wisdom is better than corals, and no choice possessions can compare with her.)
"I, Wisdom, dwell with experience, and judicious knowledge I attain.
(The fear of the LORD is to hate evil;) Pride, arrogance, the evil way, and the perverse mouth I hate.
Mine are counsel and advice; Mine is strength; I am understanding.
By me kings reign, and lawgivers establish justice;
By me princes govern, and nobles; all the rulers of earth.
"Those who love me I also love, and those who seek me find me.
With me are riches and honor, enduring wealth and prosperity.
My fruit is better than gold, yes, than pure gold, and my revenue than choice silver.
On the way of duty I walk, along the paths of justice,
Granting wealth to those who love me, and filling their treasuries.
"The LORD begot me, the first-born of his ways, the forerunner of his prodigies of long ago;
From of old I was poured forth, at the first, before the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no fountains or springs of water;
Before the mountains were settled into place, before the hills, I was brought forth;
While as yet the earth and the fields were not made, nor the first clods of the world.
"When he established the heavens I was there, when he marked out the vault over the face of the deep;
When he made firm the skies above, when he fixed fast the foundations of the earth;
When he set for the sea its limit, so that the waters should not transgress his command;
Then was I beside him as his craftsman, and I was his delight day by day, Playing before him all the while,
playing on the surface of his earth; and I found delight in the sons of men.
"So now, O children, listen to me;
instruction and wisdom do not reject! Happy the man who obeys me, and happy those who keep my ways,
Happy the man watching daily at my gates, waiting at my doorposts;
For he who finds me finds life, and wins favor from the LORD;
But he who misses me harms himself; all who hate me love death."

Picture: Audrey at bat at a travel game Columbus Day Weekend 2009.

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