UPDATE: If you downloaded the chapter before 6 am on 4 May, please download another copy. An older version contained fonts that were not available on all computers, causing it to look like random gibberish when opened. It now just looks like gibberish
I’ve been laying aside a lot of other work, and instead finishing some books I’ve started. The most important one is (working title only) Stats 601, a professional explanation of logical probability and statistics (I mean the modifier to apply to both fields). But nearly as useful will be Stats 101, the same sort of book, but designed for a (guided or self-taught) introductory course in modern probability and statistics.
I’m about 60% of the way through 101, but no chapter except the first is ready for public viewing. I’m not saying Chapter 1 is done, but it is mostly done.
I’d post the whole thing, but it’s not easy to do so because of the equations. Those of you who use Linux will know of
latex2html, which is a fine enough utility, but since it turns all equations into images, documents don’t always end up looking especially beautiful or easy to work with.
So below is a tiny excerpt, with all of Chapter 1 available at this link. All questions, suggestions for clarifications, or queries about the homework questions are welcome.
1. Certainty & Uncertainty
There are some things we know with certainty. These things
are true or false given some evidence or just because they are
obviously true or false. There are many more things about which
we are uncertain. These things are more or less probable given
some evidence. And there are still more things of which nobody
can ever quantify the uncertainty. These things are nonsensical or
First I want to prove to you there are things that are true,
but which cannot be proved to be true, and which are true based
on no evidence. Suppose some statement A is true (A might be
shorthand for “I am a citizen of Planet Earth”; writing just ‘A’ is
easier than writing the entire statement; the statement is every-
thing between the quotation marks). Also suppose some statement
B is true (B might be “Some people are frightfully boring”). Then
this statement: “A and B are true”, is true, right? But also true is
the statement “B and A are true”. We were allowed to reverse the
letters A and B and the joint statement stayed true. Why? Why
doesn?t switching make the new statement false? Nobody knows.
It is just assumed that switching the letters is valid and does not
change the truth of the statement. The operation of switching
does not change the truth of statements like this, but nobody will
ever be able to prove or explain why switching has this property.
If you like, you can say we take it on faith.
That there are certain statements which are assumed true
based on no evidence will not be surprising to you if you have
ever studied mathematics. The basis of all mathematics rests on
beliefs which are assumed to be true but cannot be proved to
be true. These beliefs are called axioms. Axioms are the base;
theorems, lemmas, and proofs are the bricks which build upon
the base using rules (like the switching statements rule) that are
also assumed true. The axioms and basic rules cannot, and can
never, be proved to be true. Another way to say this is, “We hold
these truths to be self-evident.”
Here is one of the axioms of arithmetic: For all natural
numbers x and y, if x = y, then y = x. Obviously true, right? It is just
like our switching statements rule above. There is no way to prove
this axiom is valid. From this axiom and a couple of others, plus
acceptance of some manipulation rules, all of mathematics arises.
There are other axioms?two, actually?that define probability.
Here, due to Cox (1961), is one of those axioms: The probability
of a statement on given evidence determines the probability of its
contradictory on the same evidence. I’ll explain these terms as we
It is the job of logic, probability, and statistics to quantify
the amount of certainty any given statement has. An example
of a statement which might interest us: “This new drug improves
memory in Alzheimer patients by at least ten percent.” How prob-
able is it that that statement is true given some specific evidence,
perhaps in the form of a clinical trial? Another statement: “This
stock will increase in price by at least two dollars within the next
thirty days.” Another: “Marketing campaign B will result in more
sales than campaign A.” In order to specify how probable these
statements are, we need evidence, which usually comes in the form
of data. Manipulating data to provide coherent evidence is why
we need statistics.
Manipulating data, while extremely important, is in some
sense only mechanical. We must always keep in mind that our
goal is to make sense of the world and to quantify the uncertainty
we have in given problems. So we will hold off on playing with data
for several chapters until we understand exactly what probability
We start with simple logic. Here is a classical logical argument,
All statistics books are boring.
Stats 101 is a statistics book.
Therefore, Stats 101 is boring.
The structure of this argument can be broken down as follows.
The two statements above the horizontal line are called premises;
they are our evidence for the statement below the line, which is
the conclusion. We can use the words “premises” and “evidence”
interchangeably. We want to know the probability that the conclusion
is true given these two premises. Given the evidence listed,
it is 1 (probability is a number between, and including, 0 and 1).
The conclusion is true given these premises. Another way to say
this is the conclusion is entailed by the premises (or evidence).
You are no doubt tempted to say that the probability of the
conclusion is not 1, that is, that the conclusion is not certain,
because, you say to yourself, statistics is nothing if not fun. But
that would be missing the point. You are not free to add to the
evidence (premises) given. You must assess the probability of the
conclusion given only the evidence provided.
This argument is important because it shows you that there
are things we can know to be true given certain evidence. Another
way to say this, which is commonly used in statistics, is that the
conclusion is true conditional on certain evidence.
(To read the rest, Chapter 1 is available at this link.)