02 November 2009

Statistics: Who said that math is no fun...

My statistics courses have provided many case-studies of the uniqueness of British education. This uniqueness can be followed through two specific veins:

1. My statistic lecturer (who has sweet facial hair--chops to be specific), frequently describes statistics in terms of "a system that you would come up with if you found yourself on a desert island". Alright, I understand that he is trying to imply that the system is intuitive, rational, and attempts to replicate our experiences in reality, but this assertion is uniquely Oxford. Why, do you ask? Because it is believed (and may be true for a large cohort of students here) that if you were stranded on a desert island, you would actually spend your time devising a mathematical system like statistics. Whereas we Americans have entire TV shows dedicated to what would happen if you were stranded on a desert island (namely, try to get off of it), it is reasonable here to assume that many students would spend their time developing statistics, or doing experiments. Let's be realistic. If I were stranded on a desert island, I would not be thinking about statistics, or comparative social policy. But I entertain the analogy for the sake of discussion.

2. Part of what makes the analogy more bearable is that if I could take my statistics professors with me, I might actually consider learning statistics on the desert island, only because they are so funny. In many ways, I think this is more indicative of my enjoyment of dry British humor than anything about statistics, but regardless, I love it. Let me illustrate my point with a problem from my statistics text book. (And when I say problem, I mean the ones that you would be assigned by your teacher to complete for homework...you know, the ones with answers to the odds in the back of the book. I say that you would be assigned these by your teacher, because here, no one is assigning you anything. YOU are the teacher--a scary thought for me. In many ways, I suppose I am kind of learning statistics on a desert island...)

Problem 2-8 Overheard in a Scottish pub: "When a Scotsman moves from Scotland to England, he improves the average IQ in both places."

a. How could this be possible (or is it impossible)?
b. What would you hear in an English pub?

That's right. Pub jokes make the statistics book. Those of you who aren't that statistics savvy should ask a friend to explain this one to you...

And it isn't just the book that's funny. When referring to an error he made in one of our handouts, the professor (in his typical British cadence) referred to the egg on his face, and then countered with "well, the egg on the exposed portions of my face" (yeah, he was referring to his epic facial hair). And at other times he has suggested to our class, which is quiet and a bit hesitant to interrupt his lectures, that he welcomes our questions...not as much as he welcomes ice cream on a warm day, but he welcomes them all the same. Read this and know that it is much funnier in real life.

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