What Does The Fox Say?

I have often talked about “inferential statistics” in this blog. Don’t remember? Have a quick peek here If Only I Had a Brain and here It’s Cold Out Today – Please Remember to Dress Your Naked P-Value.

Back in the saddle? OK. Lately, I have had the pleasure of addressing young minds (shout out to CAGIS who were AWESOME on Saturday at our Sunnybrook Health Science Center presentation) and I thought I might talk a little about what “inferential” means to statistics.

So What Does The Fox Say? And does Ylvis have the answer? Listen to the song while you read through the rest of the post. We live in a crazy complex world that is largely random and uncertain. This is a good thing as it would be mighty boring to know how everything will turn out in the future. Imagine sitting in the middle of the forest and counting and recording the sounds of ALL animals that pass you – by species! Wow, that’s a lot of data. Now as new research scientists (don’t forget to wear your Pocket Protector before heading out into the woods!) we like ways to describe and make sense of what we observe – we simply want to understand the world better or maybe we are working on a answer to our newly minted Research Question

Either way you are certainly thinking where does the randomness and uncertainty come into all this? Well, it exists in two places:

1- Most importantly, in the process of what you are interested in studying.

2- But also in how we collect our data (collection and sampling methods).

So you now have an incredible amount of data in your spreadsheet or on little pieces of paper in a shoe box. What now? You have gone from the world around you to data in your hand. You need to somehow capture the essence of all of your data and turn it into something more concise and understandable. You do this by finding “statistical estimators” which means performing appropriate statistical analyses. The results from these analyses will allow you to estimate, predict, or give your “best educated guess” at the answer to your research question.

So by going from the world to your data, and then from your data back to the world is what we call statistical inference.

For example after collecting many days worth of data in the woods, you find that all “furry” creatures make a a kind of barking sound whereas all “feathered” creatures chirp. Excited, you tell your friends that the next time that they are in the woods and they see a furry creature they can expect to hear them bark. However, we do not know that for sure and this is where the uncertainty creeps in.

Ylvis seems to think the fox says:”Ring-ding-ding-ding”. Maybe his data collection and sampling technique was different to yours. This contributes to error and we will talk about this in a later post.

Hopefully you do not feel like you are in the movie “Inception” and… we’ll see you back in the blogoshere soon.

Pascal Tyrrell