• Sean

Stat[u]s Quo

Updated: Feb 19, 2019

The more I learn, the more I recognize the importance of statistics. We live in a world of uncertainty, so statistics (and probability, which I'll lump in with it) crop up everywhere. Unfortunately, statistics education appears too little and too late. Part of me understands why this is. Statistics is messy. But that's why it's natural, and so important.

The questions at the heart of statistics are ones that appear in the day-to-day. For example, right now I am sitting inside Joe & the Juice on Ramona Street in Palo Alto, waiting out the rain (as a runner and biker, I am at the mercy of the weather and today I've forgotten my rain gear). I'm asking myself, "What are the odds that I get caught in the rain during my 15-minute ride if I leave this cafe now? What about in a half hour? What about in two hours?" This is a simple problem to frame but surprisingly hard to answer. Weather in general is tough. It turns out that the weather displays chaotic behavior. Such sensitivity to "initial conditions" makes it hard to predict. There are tools that can help (check out Dark Sky) but it's no wonder that local meteorologists get it wrong so often.

All that said, statistics and probability are more critical than they receive credit for. The educational system needs to recognize that. It's not the easy path for math teachers, but it is the necessary one. As artificial intelligence and machine learning receive more attention, and biology (a stochastically messy system) becomes the focus of many start-ups, we need to rethink our mathematical priorities. Let us embrace uncertainty.

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