Fat-tailed and long-tailed distributions

The tail of a probability distribution is an important notion in probability and statistics, but did you know that there is not a rigorous definition for the "tail"? The term is primarily used intuitively to mean the part of a distribution that is far from the distribution's peak or center. […]
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Stigler's seven pillars of statistical wisdom

Wisdom has built her house; She has hewn out her seven pillars.      – Proverbs 9:1 At the 2014 Joint Statistical Meetings in Boston, Stephen Stigler gave the ASA President's Invited Address. In forty short minutes, Stigler laid out his response to the age-old question "What is statistics?" His answer was […]
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Santa Claus, statistics, and understanding uncertainty

As the International Year of Statistics comes to a close, I've been reflecting on the role statistics plays in our modern society. Of course, statistics provides estimates, forecasts, and the like, but to me the great contribution of statistics is that it enables us to deal with uncertainty in a […]
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Why it's okay to guess on the SAT test

Should you ever guess on the SAT® or PSAT standardized tests? My son is getting ready to take the preliminary SAT (PSAT), which is a practice test for the SAT. A teacher gave his class this advice regarding guessing: For a multiple-choice questions, if you can eliminate one or two […]
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The difference between frequencies and weights in regression analysis

This week I read an interesting blog post that led to a discussion about specifying the frequencies of observations in a regression model. In SAS software, many of the analysis procedures contain a FREQ statement for specifying frequencies and a WEIGHT statement for specifying weights in a weighted regression. Theis […]
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Duplicate values in a stream of random numbers

As I wrote in my previous post, a SAS customer noticed that he was getting some duplicate values when he used the RAND function to generate a large number of random uniform values on the interval [0,1]. He wanted to know if this result indicates a bug in the RAND […]
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Duplicate values in random numbers: Tossing dice and sharing birthdays

Tossing dice is a simple and familiar process, yet it can illustrate deep and counterintuitive aspects of random numbers. For example, if you toss four identical six-sided dice, what is the probability that the faces are all distinct, as shown to the left? Many people would guess that the probability […]
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Quantile regression: Better than connecting the sample quantiles of binned data

I often see variations of the following question posted on statistical discussion forums: I want to bin the X variable into a small number of values. For each bin, I want to draw the quartiles of the Y variable for that bin. Then I want to connect the corresponding quartile […]
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The role of statistics in the top public health achievements of the 20th century

In this International Year of Statistics, I'd like to describe the major role of statistics in public health advances. In our modern society, it is sometimes difficult to recall the huge advances in health and medicine in the 20th century. To name a few: penicillin was discovered in 1928, risk […]
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A statistician reads the newspaper: Forecasting rising sea levels

This is a third post on newspaper stories that I recently read. Today's post deals with science, politics, and rising sea levels. Incidentally, the title is a blatant reference to John Allen Paulos's brilliant book, A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper. Senate approves law that challenges sea-level science The NC legislature […]
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