Sunday, June 24, 2012

National Traits and the Ecological Fallacy

This article caught my eye, headlined "Why criminals believe in heaven." [The Daily Mail's 'Science' and 'Health' pages are an unlimited resource for writing blog posts about bad statistics, but I promise to try not to only pick on them in future.]

The original paper is here (predictably the DM don't bother to link to it), and here is the university's press release which has been pretty slavishly copied to create the article.   The summary is, the researchers combined crime data from one source (the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime), with survey data on people's attitudes to religion and other things (from World Values Surveys and European Value Surveys).  They found that the belief in heaven and hell is a strong predictor of crime rates at a country-wide level, whilst rates of particular religious beliefs were not.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Review: The Geek Manifesto

This week I've been reading Mark Henderson's book The Geek Manifesto: Why Science Matters, which discusses the role of science and its geeky proponents in public life. Henderson's principal thesis is that politicians and scientists have been wilfully ignorant of each other for too long, and that it is time for science, its methods, and its practitioners to take a more central place in politics and policy.  This includes statistics, of course, which is why it seemed relevant to the blog.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

How should statistics be taught? Some thoughts.

Inspired by Timothy Gowers' recent post on how mathematics should be taught to non-mathematicians, I thought it might be prudent to ask how statistics should be taught.  If you need to be motivated as to how important teaching statistics is, watch Arthur Benjamin's short TED talk.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Newsflash: everyone being healthier reduces deaths

People like me often complain about the accuracy of scientific journalism, and the selective nature of the reports we see in the media; indeed, there's plenty to complain about.  However it's perfectly possible to misrepresent a story simply by choosing to place a particular spin upon it, usually one which makes the story seem more political than the original research.  It's easy to blame the newspapers for this, but often the problem is compounded by academic press releases, which are themselves designed to catch the eye of media outlets.