William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Book Update — Uncertainty & Breaking The Law Of Averages

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I’ll have the page proofs for Uncertainty mid week and I’ve until 10 June to turn them back in. (I begin teaching on the 13th.) This puts publication in early July. They say.

Probably a good guess, too, because I’m sure they want to have it available for the big statistical meeting held every August, this year in Chicago. One of its main features is a book fair. No, I won’t be there. Costs too much; besides, I’m no longer a member of any organization.

The Lord only knows what typos my enemies have placed in the draft. Besides them, and judging from my re-re-re-…-re-perusal of the manuscript, the corrections should be small stuff. Yet like I said yesterday, I’m already seeing places where I’d like to amplify arguments. I can also see one superfluous example, a distraction, I’d cut.

Also, the editor asked me to begin working on Chapter questions so that the book, in its triumphant second edition, can be used also a textbook. I do not want the book to swell in size to the point at which it is off-putting or intimidating, however.

The math is minimal. On purpose. Those who know the math already know it and don’t need to see more of it, and those who don’t wouldn’t be able to absorb a bunch of math and the new philosophy. And anyway, the philosophy is the point. There is nothing mathematically wrong with frequentism and Bayes, so there is no profit attempting to find mathematical shortcomings of those old philosophies.

Good math is beside the point. Once an equation, proved true to the satisfaction of every mathematician, is in hand, it does not—it most certainly does not—mean the application of the equation is what the mathematician says it is. Mathematicians must take a back seat to philosophers and engineers in deciding useful applications of their work. Your hand-crafted probability space—what a keen sigma field you have!—may sparkle and shine and be worth a theorem or two, but that it’s used in describing a p-value shows it has no practical value.

Law breaker

I received this nice note yesterday.

Dr. Briggs,

I must admit I am a fan of your work in the field of statistics. I myself am a recently graduated high school student who took AP statistics my senior year as I plan on majoring in Financial Engineering. However, I was led to your book “Breaking the Law of Averages” by a PhD in mathematics whom I am also grateful to call a close friend. He showed me your works and allowed me to decide my thoughts on frequentist statistics versus Bayesian statistics and I must admit I am now a convert.

However, while reading through your works I encountered a problem which you have no doubt heard feedback about before. I have been doing the homework that accompanies the book but the lack of answers makes it difficult for me to check my work. I run my answers by my friend who has the PhD in mathematics but I would ideally like your work to see how you solve your problems and to gain insight into your way of thinking (which I have grown accustomed to through reading your blog and listening to your podcasts as well).

I can only imagine how busy you must be and therefore I understand if you are not able to respond in a quick manner I just wanted to reach out to you for your insight and help with an aspiring statistician (to a degree I must concede).

Thank you for all your work and please keep posting, your work and philosophy truly does inspire and allows me to view the world from a new perspective that I appreciate and often agree with,

BJ

BJ,

Yes, I’ve been asked lots about solutions to the book. I don’t have them. I wrote BLOA quickly for use as an Intro text. I’ve used it successfully for many years, and updated only a couple of times, because I’ve spent most of my time on Uncertainty.

Ideally, I’d go back to BLOA and cut out the material on R, which is no longer necessary since it’s all on-line, and I’d redo the questions; plus, I’d do some reorganizing to bring it in line with Uncertainty. Ideally.

Uncertainty is not an introductory book for entering college students.

Way I do it in class is have students go to the board, one by one, and lead the group in an answer. I only kibitz when they stray too far from the farm. I only assign reading for homework—but I’m always asking questions to make sure who knows what.

Point: I never wrote down the answers. And when I’ve gone back to try, I realize I have to redo the whole book. Thanks for the encouragement!

11 Comments

  1. You never wrote down the answers??? I remember in elementary school if someone could find a copy of the teacher’s text with the answers (even a similar book that had examples and answers), it was a true treasure. Funny, isn’t it, the need humans seem to have for expert verification and validation. I noticed on Amazon the commenters also wanted answers put in the book.

    No matter how many times a person corrects a text, there’s always something one sees that needs or could be changed. At some point, one has to just walk away and let it be as is.

  2. Also, the editor asked me to begin working on Chapter questions so that the book, in its triumphant second edition, can be used also a textbook. I do not want the book to swell in size to the point at which it is off-putting or intimidating, however.
    So put them in a digital version downloadable from a link on this website. 1) solves the bloat problem. 2) brings traffic to the site. 3) permits frequent updating and improvement (although that will give your enemies opportunity to monkey around with it).

    Good to see this project coming to fruition.

  3. I kind of am disappointed that BJ didn’t tell you that he was only 15 years old and would attend MIT in Fall 2016. So incredibly motivated. I know quite a few nerdy children of my friends (like parent like child), the majority of whom has gone to Ivy League schools or flagship universities. BJ wins hands down the crown of Super Nerd. The letter also wears a shawl of flattery. BJ will go far in life.

    More importantly, there is hope for the next generation. Hehehe…

  4. Well, I really don’t know if BJ is a male or female.

  5. Sheri, you say: “No matter how many times a person corrects a text, there’s always something one sees that needs or could be changed. At some point, one has to just walk away and let it be as is.”

    It brings to mind an a conversation with one of my college professors. We were using a book written by one of his colleagues in the department. The professor was keeping a notebook with all of the errors we found over the course of the term to give to the author as a gift at the end of the term.

    I asked some question about correcting errors in the when a new edition is printed. My prof said, “Where do you think the errors come from?”

    The other joke of it was that the book was already 15 years old.

  6. I used to edit when I was young. Any paper that came my way always got an A. Writing music helps with writing in general, as even the slightest error in music, as it’s math after all, ruins an entire piece. Imagine, one misspelling and no one’s ever heard of Thus Poke Zarathustra (nor Thus Pake Zarathustra).

    I don’t know why anyone would need all that much original work product in order corroborate a philosophy, often something comes to someone without a clear rational path to the origin of the idea (the fallacy of Free Will pops to mind). The best thing would be to produce new work and show it in action.

    JMJ

  7. Briggs

    May 24, 2016 at 5:25 pm

    JMJ,

    Yes, interesting. An off note in music has more influence than a misspelling. I can fly by a typo but a wince caused by a musical flub lingers.

  8. Talking of music, have you heard “The Sound of Silence” by Disturbed? It’s on YouTube.

  9. Rich

    Free association reigns! There’s that butterfly!

    I couldn’t believe it when I heard it!

  10. On reflection (pun intended)

    Disturbed’s “owning” of “The Sound of Silence”
    mirrors
    Johnny Cash’s “owning” of Nine-Inch Nail’s “Hurt”

    Briggs:

    I got some books to buy

  11. Briggs:

    Yes, interesting. An off note in music has more influence than a misspelling. I can fly by a typo but a wince caused by a musical flub lingers.

    That depends on the typo. If the typo results in a different word or if the “typo” loses a “simple” word (like “not”) that changes meaning. Harder to gloss over unless you’re paying close attention to context

    JMJ:
    I don’t think Briggs “glossed” over your jibe about “Free Will”

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