Get the FREE DIGITAL BOOK: The Case for Killer Robots
Mind Matters Reporting on Natural and Artificial Intelligence

TagStatistics

the-settlers-of-catan-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
The Settlers of Catan

In Science, We Can’t Just “Settle” for Data Clusters

The board game, Settlers of Catan, offers a clear illustration of what can go wrong when we are duped by data clusters

Settlers of Catan is an incredible board game created by Klaus Teuber, a German game designer. It has been translated into dozens of languages and tens of millions of sets have been sold. The basic four-player board consists of 19 hexagons (hexes) representing resources: 3 brick, 4 lumber, 4 wool, 4 grain, 3 ore, and 1 desert. Players acquire and use resources based on dice rolls, card draws, trading, and the location of their settlements and cities. Part of the game’s seductive appeal is that there are many, many ways to arrange the 19 hexagons and successful strategies depend on how the hexagons are arranged. The rules are simple but winning strategies are complex and elusive. The official rules of…

business-finance-marketing-and-budget-report-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Business Finance Marketing and Budget Report

What Happened When 1950s China Dreamed of “Total Information”?

When China rejected random sampling in favor of exhaustive enumeration of individuals, masses of “data” flooded in, but what did it mean?

A historian of modern China recounts the outcome of a momentous decision that China’s new Communist rulers made in the 1950s. They decided to abandon conventional methods of gathering statistics that use probability and adopted the method of exhaustive counting of everybody and everything. Why did their dream of total information became a nightmare? Harvard historian Arunabh Ghosh (right), author of Making It Count: Statistics and Statecraft in the Early People’s Republic of China (2020), explains that in the 1950s, newly communist China faced a choice about how to survey the population accurately while making “a clean break with the past.” For philosophical reasons, debates about how to gather statistics came to the fore: In a speech in 1951, Li…

medical-statistics-and-graphic-charts-with-stethoscope-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
medical statistics and graphic charts with stethoscope

Making Sense of the Numbers Behind COVID-19

Media and politicians put statistics before us to sway our opinions. But what do they really mean?

Numbers can frighten or enlighten. The secret is making them explain themselves. Here’s a quick primer.

Read More ›
Photo by Erik Mclean
red and blue hearts illustration

Why Does COVID-19 Target the Northern Hemisphere?

A graph of death rates by latitude is revealing

First of all, COVID-19 clearly does not attack the globe uniformly by latitude. The second standout feature is that it targets the northern hemisphere. How can a disease’s spread be affected by hemisphere, let alone latitude? Let’s look a little deeper for some clues.

Read More ›
Head shot close up portrait of red-and-green macaw in zoo

Polly Want a … Statistician?

Ethology, the science of animal behavior, offers interesting data but the interpretations are too often witless

Can birds really do statistics? A reporter writing up the results of a study for a popular science magazine seems to think so. The researchers are (appropriately) more cautious. But what are the issues here?

Read More ›
Scoring the winning points at a basketball game

Is “Hot Hands” Just a Basketball Myth?

Not so fast…

The paper that busted the myth of “hot hands” is justly famous. But statisticians are not prophets. Craig Hodges’ streak of 19 in a row in the 1991 contest is still too incredible to be explained by luck or cherry-picking. The numbers show that hot hands don’t happen every day, but they do happen.

Read More ›
Demographic Change

Can The Machine TELL If You Are Psychotic or Gay?

No, and the hype around what machine learning can do is enough to make old-fashioned tabloids sound dull and respectable

Media often co-operate with researchers’ inflated claims about machine learning’s powers of discovery. An ingenious “creative” approach to accuracy enables the misrepresentation, says data analyst Eric Siegel.

Read More ›
Baseball fans and crowd cheering in stadium and watching the game in ballpark. Happy people enjoying a match and sport event in arena. Friends watching ballgame live.

The World Series: What the Luck?

Who will win the World Series? I don’t know, but I do know that baseball is the quintessential game of luck

Think about it. Line drives hit right at fielders, mis-hit balls dying in the infield. Fly balls barely caught and barely missed. Balls called strikes and strikes called balls. Even the best batters make twice as many outs as hits. Even the best teams lose more than a third of their games. This season, the Houston Astros had the highest win percentage (66.0%) in baseball, yet they lost two out of six games to Baltimore, which only won a third of their games—not because Baltimore was the better team, but because Baltimore was the luckier team in those two games. The Astros are one of the 10 best teams this season (along with the Yankees, Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Cleveland, Oakland,…

Target wall Photo by Jimmy Ofisia on Unsplash 765161

Can AI Combat Misleading Medical Research?

No, because AI doesn’t address the “Texas Sharpshooter Fallacies” that produce the bad data

In this week’s podcast, Pomona College’s Gary Smith, author of The AI Delusion, talks with Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks about why so many bad research papers are accepted in the science establishment and in media.

Read More ›