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Subject: Statistics: how do I do them? rss

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Matthew Percival
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There are several users on BGG who post all kinds of interesting threads and Geeklists on various statistical information. I find it fascinating to read, but I know very little about statistics. All I know is what they taught us in high school, and that was mostly how to read a racing form guide (the Australian education system is a joke). Since there are several users here who seem (to me) to know what they are doing, I was hoping one of them may be able to point me in the right direction.

How do I learn enough useful things to be able to come up with my own interesting statistical analyses? Library books? Websites? Just make it up on the spot like everyone else does and pretend I know what I am talking about?
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First off, dibs?


One does not simply do Statistics. Statistics does (do?) you.



I think you can find all sorts of sources online to learn basic statistics and then move on to more advanced topics in statistics.



I had an introductory course in Statistics at University. At that time, we didn't actually use calculators, but tables in the textbook.

I've forgotten almost everything from the course and relearned everything when having to actually apply the information in my field of study which went a little more in depth, but only a little.


I learned more about probability in playing games and other people's knowledge of it.
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You can make it fun. As you mentioned, odds at a race track are a start.
I took a university course called "Statistics of Gambling", and we went into the basics of combinations and permutations using dice and then cards for real life examples. We then took on various games (craps, blackjack, and roulette) and did analysis on them. It was a fun course.

(For the record, Keno has the worst odds for the player of any game in Vegas-- worse than the slot machines; roulette isn't too much better. Blackjack is close, but craps is your best chance of playing the odds and coming out a winner).

*this was 20 years ago, before "Texas Hold-em" really caught fire. That's a game that you can really practice statistics on.
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Are you interested in understanding statistics; creating experiments and analyzing data using statistical techniques, or in probability?

Raw data is easy to look at, bit if there are a lot of data points it's hard to make sense of it. Numbers like means, standard deviations, confidence intervals, correlation coefficients, etc are basically summaries of data which help interpret it. They're not hard to understand (though I'd advise being very careful in selecting who to listen to on BGG /lol), and if you want to understand someone else's data the "magic numbers" have usually been calculated for you.

Designing experiments, or figuring out the design behind harder things, is more difficult, and would require more study. For example there are many areas like economics and some areas of the "social sciences" where it's very hard to create good experiments, so it's difficult to draw useful conclusions from the data that can be collected.

Probability turns up all over the place of course, but in my first paragraph I was thinking of e.g. poker. If you assume the cards are dealt randomly you don't need to run experiments - you can figure out the odds of anything you want to (and you can get calculators and/or software to do all the boring calculations).
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I recommend a book...

How to Lie With Statistics - which is a great little tome, written a long time ago but the principles are still sound.

And...

If that whets your appetite, I suggest taking an intro to stats course. You can probably find one online from a local university, or there's very likely a free massive online open course somewhere.
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I wonder if you really want to do statistics. For example, look at the very popular BGG Top 50 Statistics. There's no actual statistics there, just some averages and basic math. I think if you go down the "statistics" a little thought will tell you how each is calculated.

I tend to think an average BGG user wouldn't tend to understand standard deviations, σ, chi-squared and such; and I doubt the data is there to really make those measures "significant"--which is statistics for, "Mathematically improbable to have occurred by chance", not important. And, you'd get into endless arguments about that from the fairly high number of BGG users who do understand statistics.

...Which may well be immediately demonstrated by someone ripping into me.laugh
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Matthew Percival
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Tall_Walt wrote:
I tend to think an average BGG user wouldn't tend to understand standard deviations, σ, chi-squared and such


I have only heard of a standard deviation, never the other two, and I scored pretty high in high school maths Again, this could be further proof of how bad the Australian education system is...
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Elric of Grans wrote:
Tall_Walt wrote:
I tend to think an average BGG user wouldn't tend to understand standard deviations, σ, chi-squared and such


I have only heard of a standard deviation, never the other two, and I scored pretty high in high school maths Again, this could be further proof of how bad the Australian education system is...

Statistics is a special application of maths, and has to be studied separately. Only a few useful statistical tools or techniques can be usefully taught before university-level classes. Fortunately averages and the Gaussian (standard normal) distribution are on that list - it's enough to put you well ahead of any newspaper article

You probably remember doing some basic probability studies though.

FWIW the Chi-squared distribution is used for hypothesis testing (mentioned indirectly in other posts). This is probably studied in some school systems, but it's hard to make examples and problems that are both useful and easily understood without a bit more maths than is covered in high schools. I don't remember learning it in school.

Back to what you want - if you want to study, there are plenty of books and there are sure to be online classes. More importantly you need to "aim" your initial studies, or, lacking a teacher, you might be overwhelmed. See my post above for some ideas. Naturally after you get started and establish a context you'll be able to direct your studies yourself - as with many other things, the hardest part is getting started.
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