Statistics as Magic and Medicine


New Member
As an aspiring researcher I am externally motivated to achieve a high proficiency in statistics. Having been taught statistics at upper undergraduate and postgraduate level I have learned to appreciate statistics through the use of computers (SPSS and Minitab). However, I was never taught the basics of statistics - for example, how to manually calculate covariance and test functions other than the easier versions of ANOVA and Gosset's t-test.

Although I am usually a fast learner, I have great trouble trying to learn a mathematically dense subject without having understood the fundamentals and the meaning behind it. I often ask myself questions such as: Why does this particular formula do the job? Why do we use n-k-1 and more importantly what does it mean, the degrees of freedom?

Currently, I have enrolled in basic statistics modules at the undergraduate level in order to learn statistics the way I learn best. It takes more time, but without this approach I am afraid that statistics will remain an obscure art or science to me—like magic.

Maybe the reader by now has read between the lines that I have failed one or two statistics modules. Indeed, I had to repeat one module, but I managed to ace the second exam. However, I never got a chance to properly prepare for a more demanding computer based module. As a consequence, I did not graduate with the degree I intended.

It saddens me that statistics has a stigma of dryness and is not well received by students. I read somewhere on this forum that some of you consider yourselves procrastinators. Although statistics is only part of my goal to master a science, lately, I have been trying to find motivation in statistics itself. I read about the sometimes dark history of statistics, from the origin of probability theory applied to gambling outcomes in order to maximise gains, to the eugenicists. Suddenly, there was light in the darkness and a woman appeared. When I first learned about Florence Nightingale - inventor of the circle diagram - and her idea of statistics as a worship tool to "uncover God's plan" I decided to create a view of statistics that is more aligned with my own values.

In order to motivate me I figured that statistics deals with uncertainty. It seeks out certainty. In doing so, it tries to rid that painful feeling of uncertainty: anxiety. In this regard, statistics is like a medicine.

The ironic twist is that I get anxious when I try to sit down and learn statistics. I procrastinate and quickly run out of statistical self-esteem. My motivation project failed and I am down in the dumps. It may not be apparent, but statistics appeals to me and I love applying it to data that I gathered myself (I have even approached R to solve some tricky problems and it was great fun!). However, I have failed so many times I lack the confidence to approach statistics, endangering my career goal. I wish to get back on track.

What motivates Your engagement with statistics?:wave:
Last edited: