Chance plays a huge part in your life, whether you know it or not. Your particular genetic makeup mutated slightly when you were created, and it did so based on specific laws of probability. Performance in school involves human errors, yours and others', which tends to keep your actual ability level from being reflected precisely in your report card or on those high-stakes tests. Research on careers even suggests that what you do for a living was probably not a result of careful planning and preparation, but more likely due to happenstance. And, of course, chance determines your fate in games of chance and plays a large role in the outcome of sporting events.
Fortunately, an entire set of scientific tools, the various applications of statistics, can be used to solve the problems caused by our fate-influenced system. Inferential statistics, a field of science based entirely on the nature of probability, allows us to understand the way things work, discover relationships among variables, describe a huge population by seeing just a small bit of it, make uncannily accurate predictions, and, yes, even make a little money with a well-placed wager here and there.
This book is a collection of statistical tricks and tools. Statistics Hacks presents useful tools from statistics, of course, but also from the realms of educational and psychological measurement and experimental research design. It provides solutions to a variety of problems in the world of social science, but also in the worlds of business, games, and gambling.
If you are already a top scientist and do statistical calculations in your sleep, you'll enjoy this book and the creative applications it finds for those rusty old tools you know so well. If you just like the scientific approach to life and are entertained by cool ideas and clever solutions to interesting problems, don't worry. Statistics Hacks was written with the nonscientist in mind, too, so if that is you, you've come to the right place. It's written for the nonstatistician as well, so if this still describes you, you'll feel safe here.
If, on the other hand, you are taking a statistics course or have some interest in the academic nature of the topic, you might find this book a pleasant companion to the textbooks typically required for those sorts of courses. There won't be any contradictions between your textbook and this book, so hearing about real-world applications of statistical tools that seem only theoretical won't hurt your development. It's just that there are some pretty cool things that you can do with statistics that seem more like fun than like work.
Why Statistics Hacks?
The term hacking has a bad reputation in the press. They use it to refer to people who break into systems or wreak havoc, using computers as their weapon. Among people who write code, though, the term hack refers to a "quick-and-dirty" solution to a problem or a clever way to get something done. And the term hacker is taken very much as a compliment, referring to someone as being creative, having the technical chops to get things done. The Hacks series is an attempt to reclaim the word, document the good ways people are hacking, and pass the hacker ethic of creative participation on to the uninitiated. Seeing how others approach systems and problems is often the quickest way to learn about a new technology.
The technologies at the heart of this book are statistics, measurement, and research design. Computer technology has developed hand-in-hand with these technologies, so the use of the term hacks to describe what is done in this book is consistent with almost every perspective on that word. Though there is just a little computer hacking covered in these pages, there is a plethora of clever ways to get things done.
How This Book Is Organized
You can read this book from cover to cover if you like, but each hack stands on its own, so feel free to browse and jump to the different sections that interest you most. If there's a prerequisite you need to know about, a cross-reference will guide you to the right hack.
The earlier hacks are more foundational and probably provide generalized solutions or strategic approaches across a variety of problems to a greater extent than later hacks. On the other hand, later hacks provide much more specific tricks for winning games or just information to help you understand what's going on around you.
The book is divided into several chapters, organized by subject:
Conventions Used in This Book
The following is a list of the typographical conventions used in this book:
You should pay special attention to notes set apart from the text with this icon:
The thermometer icons, found next to each hack, indicate the relative complexity of the hack:
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