Saturday, 9 April 2016

You can do interesting things with "statistics"

- those numbers which are supposed to "prove" - or disprove - things.
I was required to do two courses in statistics at university - the sort of statistics  used in the social sciences. Being a curious but cautious cat I was wary of them. I am still wary of them. 
Until I went to law school I also made the completely erroneous assumption that people who taught in universities had at least a very basic understanding of what statistics could and could not do.
I then discovered that one of the most intelligent and able people on the staff did not know how to read what I thought of as a simple statistical diagram - or fully understand the significance of the results it displayed.
Fortunately for me the staff member concerned  trusted me enough to ask for an explanation. It was an uncomfortable moment for me though as the usual role of teacher and student was reversed. 
Since then I have been even more cautious and, I hope, aware of the way in which statistics are being used.
In our state newspaper this morning there is an abuse of statistics which almost defies belief. It ranks schools according to the national NAPLAN test results. The list is absolute nonsense. It does not take into account so many things that affect test performance. It puts additional pressure on teachers, on students, on principals, and more. It is dangerous to compare schools in the way this has been done.
The Senior Cat sat over his breakfast this morning and read it. He is no statistician but he was a school principal for most of his working life. He sighed and said,
       "I'm glad I'm out of it. How do you explain this to the parents?"


No comments: