Understanding Statistics

Posted Aug 7, 2006
Last Updated Nov 10, 2011

After watching James Randi and Rosemary Altea on Larry King Live for the second time, I decided to do my little part in trying to explain why it is important to understand statistics. Altea, a self-proclaimed psychic, says that she can talk to those who have moved on (as she does not believe in the word "dead”). In reaction to the show, I wrote the Statistical Proof Tool.

Something that really upset me in the episode was Altea’s patronizing reaction to Randi; both King and Altea asked Randi what would constitute "proof”; Randi responded that it would be up to a statistician to decide. Altea, (whether ignorant or playing dumb I don’t know) said that Randi was backpedaling and deceptive because of the response. But the reality was that Randi is much more wise about statistics than the average person.

I have programmed a little tool to help people understand why you cannot give an across-the board standard as to what constitutes proof because the nature of the questions and the possible set of results affects the statistical likelihood that any are right or wrong.

Anyway… you can read a full transcript of the show for reference on what pushed me to create Statistical Proof: Making Sense of Statistics and Numbers.

The tool is written in JavaScript 1.5. As such, you need a JavaScript-enabled browser to run the tool. I have tested it in Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox.

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