Friday, September 19, 2008

Pro Screw Yourself

My job is sort of like a statistical game show, where I get asked random questions about random statistical things. Most the time I don't have a problem, but sometimes I have no clue about the procedure the customer is asking about and I have to do a bit of research.

Unfortunately if I haven't heard about a procedure at all it means that it is either new or not used. And unfortunately that means that information on it is limited. To add further complications the information that I can find is usually provided by somebody who holds the idea dear. And to add one more layer of suckage, if the idea is flawed then the person will compensate by trying to complicate the idea by using fluff words to describe the process. And since that is the only resource for the topic I must read it and sift through the plies of crap words.

For example today I did some searching about a topic that some economics developed. The person writing the article felt that he needed to sound smarter than the average bear so he kept on using the term "pro rata", which I have never heard before, but It turns out that pro rata means in proportion. Would it have been that hard to just say in proportion?

General rule of thumb: "If the reader understands it, it is written correctly. If there is any confusion then it is written incorrectly." Inserting pro rata and a priori and mumbo-jumbo does not make you prove your point, it just confuses the reader about what you are actually doing.

I guess that might be the point.


elizabeth said...

I like to throw the odd made up word into conversation with people who do this on a regular basis - just to mess with them...

The Gare Bear said...

Why do real statistics when you can invent your own, complete with invented and/or fancy latin words to make it sound official? When this happens, it probably means no thought was given to experimental design (in the real world, proper replication is sometimes quite difficult or costly), so the statistics have to be invented to account for the potential lack of meaningful results. RE: difficulty with obtaining proper replication -- ask me about this sometime. I can give you a recent real world example.