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Como se dice “I hate statistics”?

As every statistician knows, many people hate our field. How many times have we all heard “You do statistics? I HATED that class in college!” (I remember one of my college professors complaining indignantly that no one would presume to tell an artist that he hated art.) There are all sorts of factors that probably contribute to the unpopularity of statistics: it’s often one of the few quantitative courses required for social science majors, who may be less into mathy subjects to begin with; it’s not always well-taught (although what subject is?); the logic of hypothesis testing isn’t terribly intuitive. Lately I’ve been wondering if statistics’ bad reputation is confined to the US or if it’s more universal. My own experiences really don’t help to answer that question: Sure, most of the “I hate statistics” comments I hear come from Americans, but that’s not surprising given that I live in the US. And many of the international people I know are work-related, so of course they tend not to hate statistics. Anyway, my wondering about this is self-serving. Starting in January I’ll be teaching intro statistics at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, and I’ve been wondering what the students will be like. I’m hoping not to hear “me disgusta estadística” too much….

13 Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    I am sorry to telll you my friend that the hatred from the softern social-sciency types tends to be near universal (at least it is in latin america, spain and portugal)

  2. Paul says:

    Greetings from Maldives. My high school teacher used to tell of the joke that if you had one day to live you would want to spend the day in the statistics class- it would seem so much longer.

    My experience with teaching statistics (very little) tells me that it is more to do with uneasiness with maths which is the main problem. A lot of students especially girls tell me that they are not good in maths and their father also said that none in the family is good at maths. It is really difficult to convince them that they don’t have an inherent problem hardwired into them and they too can excel in statistics.
    -Paul
    wwww.truckandbarter.com

  3. Jeronimo says:

    Estimada Sam,

    What you are probably going to hear is “odi estadística” which it may be one of the purest manifestations of transnational feelings among undergrads all over the universe. However, I’m sure that your class is going to be the exception…

  4. Anonymous says:

    Hello:

    I'm an statistics teacher in Spain (in the Basque Country) actually and I am afraid that you will very often hear "Odio la estadística" during your stay in Barcelona.

    In my opinion this is an "universal problem" not only US's.

    Regards,

    Juan-José Gibaja (Spain)

  5. Sam Cook says:

    Well, I guess I'm not surprised. And if the field were more popular we'd have a tougher job market, right?

  6. John says:

    I think in Barcelona they would say "odi l'estadistica".

  7. Deb says:

    I agree that most people think the field should be renamed "sadistics" but I am not 100% sure why it's so despised.
    http://blog.ltc.arizona.edu/cogblog/archives/2005

  8. Gary Furash says:

    I think it's less the logic and more the math. I hate to say this, but I think we would probably be better off teaching the same statistics, but use resampling for a first course as the method – it's something normal, non-mathy people can understand. Once they get that, further courses could show them the more traditional testing stuff.

  9. Bellinda says:

    I too think its universal, in Australia I got so sick of hearing the "you're a statistician, I hated statistics" when I told people what I did that I started telling people that I work in research. I didn't like stats at the undergraduate level and I think it has a lot to do with the way it's taught, stats can be fun!

  10. martha says:

    Sam, do not be down on Americans for hating statistics … it's the terrible school system that won't teach math when it can teach feelings. I also agree that disdain for statistics is universal

  11. Maribel says:

    Dear Sam,

    Feelings about Statistics are universal. Here in Barcelona you may hear 'No me gusta la Estadística' (I don't like statistics, Spanish version), 'No m'agrada l'estadística' (Catalan version), but also the english version, because of international students at Pompeu Fabra University.

    Anyway, I'm sure you'll enjoy your time here. If you need anything, don't hesitate writing to me (after reading you for some time, you sound familiar to me ;) )

  12. Anonymous says:

    I see this is an old link, but I can't resist commenting.
    I think statistic are extremely interesting. However, in my experience as a non-statistician here is what I see is wrong with how it is taught:
    1. It uses a foreign language. So, on top of trying to remember all of the new information, I also have to spend time decipering the codes. Okay, now what does this symbol mean again?
    2. Every instructor I have had has made the topic utterly painful. Either we are flipping coins (Yeah I always wondered about that.) or we are off in technical outer space. Indeed, I had one instructor who made the course so hard, that when I happened to show it to a friend who teaches statistics, he said the problem I had been given to solve in a take home test was a well-known and very difficult one which should never have been given to a learner like me. (God's awful truth.)
    3. At least when I was in graduate school about 10 years ago, it hadn't even occured to any of my instructors that they needed to teach HOW to apply statistics using Excel or Minitab etc. as a unit rather than using the tools as a nice option. Don't get me wrong, we are always going to need people like you all for the real work, but most of us don't have the need or desire for the full monty.
    4. It seems that somewhere along the line someone wrote a text book for teaching statistics and now that is the standard. Even the ones that claim to teach for the unteachable like me vary little from the driest of the lot.

    Truely, I don't mean to be flip about this topic. I found this discussion because once again I am searching for some way to learn what I want to know about using statistics without having brain sweats or my ego ground to dust.

    Been at it for about 10 hours now and so far the results are disappointing.

  13. Mark says:

    Jump forward 5 years and it's still a miserable course. Professors beat down students with it. Make themselves feel relevant for being able to beat down students. Sitting Statistics professors can't even pass another professor's exams, yet students new to the subject are expected to take this abomination of a course and keep a B average in Grad school. It's really ridiculous. You can speak to a computer now and get the answers. It makes more sense teaching students how and why you'd ask the question in the first place, then what to do with the answer once the computer calculates it. Call it Practical Statistics. What we have now is appropriately termed, "Sadistics." Little man syndrome where a pointy-headed statistician is playing a shell game with a pea he keeps in his pocket.