Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Bean Counters of the World, Unite!

The UN declared today, 10-20-2010, to be World Statistics Day.

That date looks cooler if you are not American:  20.10.2010.  

By profession, I am, in essence, a bean counter.  My job is to use statistical methods to predict how many soybeans (and other crops) will be produced.  I celebrate my world day with these 5 thoughts about statistics.

1. 67.8 % of all statistics are made up.  I know because I read it on a t-shirt.

2.  38.6% of statistics are silly.
I heard on the right-wing radio station yesterday:
“There was a survey taken of small business owners, and the survey found that 65% of small business owners ... (big pause by right-wing speaker for effect)  ... are worried.”

See also these alarming statistics about bread.

3.  Statistics are important.  For instance, when my mother-in-law reported to us that her blood pressure measured at 400 over 70, we needed to compare that to statistics of the usual range of blood pressure measurements.  We concluded that she was inflating her systolic pressure by a factor of about 4.  At 400/70 her head would have popped off.  Never fear, her head is still on.

There are other statistics that are important in families.  The parent’s favorite statistical question is, “How many times do I have to tell you to hang your coat up?”

3.  Some things are hard to count, but it’s important to try anyway.
- How do you count the number of homeless people in your community?  Many of them are not living on the street, but are staying with Uncle Joe.

- How do you count the number of hungry people in a community?  Set up a food bank, and then go count them again to see if your food bank is effective.

- How many people are there who profess faith in Jesus Christ, and are in an interfaith marriage with a Jew, in which both partners practice their religions and are actively involved in their faith communities?  The answer is: not very many.  One of them is me.

4.   Statistics is biblical.
Starting with the fact that one of the books of the Bible is named “Numbers,” many chapters of the Bible are devoted to the taking of censuses.   There is also counting the spoils of war (the spoils being sheep and goats) so they can be divvied up among the victors (Numbers 31).  David takes a census without God’s approval, and everybody suffers (1 Chronicles 21).  Perhaps my favorite biblical statistic is found in the gospel of John 21:11 – “So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn.”

5.  Probability (used closely in conjunction with statistics) is useful in everyday life.
For example, I sent an e-mail to my husband and kids detailing my plan to work out the complicated logistics we were facing a few days later, with debate team practice, marching band rehearsal, swallowing of dinner, a football game, and a string orchestra gig.  I concluded my e-mail with the question “Does that seem like it will work?”  My son wrote back:
“There is a 40% chance of it working, a 10% chance of it not working, and a 50% chance of it only working for one person.”

And there is a 100% chance that the one person it works for is not Mom.

When I told my husband that it is World Statistics Day, he said, “What are the chances that anybody is observing World Statistics Day?”


Angie Kay Dilmore said...

Great post, CHM! I never did like math. But I worked for the US Census Bureau. So I know how to count everyone who lives with Uncle Joe.

Common Household Mom said...

Angie, that's cool! Because I have this idea that those people living with Uncle Joe don't really want to be counted. Maybe I'm wrong...

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

Well, I'm observing it NOW--I never knew. And this was pretty fascinating--I enjoy statistics, but don't always trust them.