« All Episodes

Misunderstood Truths About Statistics (Part 1)

Published 3/30/2018

What makes discussions about statistics sound cold? In today's episode we're breaking down the etymology of statistics, how it's evolved over the years and how we can make better decisions based on real statistics.

Today's Episode is Brought To You By: WooCommerce

WooCommerce is an open source eCommerce solution, built on WordPress. With WooCommerce you can sell physical products, digital downloads, subscriptions, memberships, services, and tickets - plus offer flexible ways to pay, including Apple Pay and Bitcoin powered by Stripe.

AND NOW, If you are a developer interested in building and selling extensions, a great way to earn extra income or even build out a whole business, they have some good news: the WooCommerce.com marketplace is open submissions! Learn more about how to submit your extension to Woo’s official marketplace at https://woocommerce.com/develop-woocommerce/

They're giving Developer Tea listeners 20% off purchases when you use promo code DEVELOPERTEA at WooCommerce.com/developertea (offer lasts until end March 2018)

Jon's Cup of Tea - Don't forget to check out Mad Monk Tea! Remember the code "Developer Tea" will get you 15% off your order.

Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
What makes discussions about statistics sound cold? That's what we're talking about on today's episode of Developer Tea and ways that you can start to unravel this incorrect perspective on statistics. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and you're listening to Developer Tea. My goal on this show is to help you as a driven developer uncover your career purpose. So that you can have a positive influence on other people. That's a basic version of the goal of this show. We explore this in many different ways. I hope that by talking about these subjects, perhaps I flip a switch in your brain that you always had ready to flip that perhaps I turn on a light bulb for you. Certain times in my life light bulbs have been turned on for me when I realized that I enjoy learning so much. This is when I was much younger. That was a light bulb moment for me. So I'm hoping that this podcast is full of those moments for you where you have an epiphany about yourself or perhaps about your situation. Something that helps you connect better to yourself, better to your own purpose. I hope that this discussion about statistics will be exactly that. So I want to start out by backing up and talking about the word statistics. So we all understand what is the etymology? Where did this come from? What exactly is statistics? As it turns out, the stat portion of the word statistics is referring to state. These are state-sponsored pieces of information. These are really what statistics is. State-sponsored gathering, like a census. That's what statistics came from. And googling around a little bit, I found this online etymology dictionary that talks about statistics. And it basically says statistics came around in 1770, the word did. And the basic meaning is, science dealing with data about the condition of a state or community. So statistics have always been about understanding people. This is kind of a weird reality that we kind of flip on its head in today's world of data-driven decisions. And all of these things that you kind of get this montage, if you were watching a 90s movie of zeros and ones going across the screen and somebody crunching a bunch of numbers, and that's kind of the popular perspective on what data analysis and statistics really means. Unfortunately, this is a total skewed perspective on what statistics actually is. And it's important that we as developers and really as anyone in a creative field, anyone in a business field has a better grasp on what exactly it means to make decisions based on statistics. And to even analyze statistics. So I'm really excited to talk about the subject. It's something that I'm very passionate about if you can't tell. And we talk about things surrounding the concept of statistics quite a bit on this show. We've talked about rational decision making, talked about bias. And all of this really centers around Bayesian thinking. If you haven't looked at Bayesian decision making systems that I encourage you to Google that, that's Bayes spelled B-A-Y-E-S. Essentially, what Bayes decision making shows us is that we weigh things and then we make decisions based on the weights. That's a very simplified version of how we make decisions. So we've talked about statistics from that angle in terms of how humans view the world and whether or not we're good at statistics by default, kind of intuitive statisticians. The spoiler alert is that we're not very good as intuitive statisticians. But it's my belief and I believe quite a few other developers and successful entrepreneurs beliefs that having a baseline view of how statistics can apply to everyday decisions is extremely important. And I realize this is a controversial topic. This is something that if you were to sit down and talk with any given other person in your company, you're likely to have clashing viewpoints on. But I want to share with you some de-fusing ways to think about statistics and unload these terms a little bit. Start destigmatizing the ways that they've become cold or otherwise abused and misused in conversations that maybe you haven't even had but other people have had or perhaps culture has propagated about data and statistics. But first I want to take a moment to talk about today's incredible sponsor, WuCommerce. We couldn't do what we do without our sponsors on this show. So I want to take a moment to thank WuCommerce for being a consistent sponsor this quarter. WuCommerce is customizable eCommerce built on WordPress. And it's important we talked about having a baseline already a little bit in this conversation. And in just a bit we're going to talk about how we, whether we want to or not, we're thinking statistically all the time. But one of the ways that we think statistically is by having default behaviors. Default behaviors act as a baseline for our actions and our actions at the baseline are determined by the average outcomes of those actions in the past. WuCommerce can be a baseline for you. It can be a default action, a default that you go to when you have a eCommerce solution to build. WuCommerce is an open source eCommerce solutions built on top of WordPress and nearly 30% of all online stores on the web are powered by WuCommerce. So I want to take a moment to recognize why that's important. 30%. That means that almost one in three and certainly more than one in four websites that are eCommerce sites that you visit are likely to be WuCommerce. Now the important fact here is that that's actually a heuristic. We're talking about a type of statistic information. It doesn't necessarily directly tell you anything about WuCommerce except that a lot of businesses are depending on it. A lot of businesses are depending on it every day to handle their eCommerce. So that's an important reality that helps you parse how WuCommerce may be useful to you with WuCommerce you own your data forever. Now setting up a store for the first time is incredibly easy because the plugin includes a guided installation. This includes configuring payments, shipping and taxes. Now if you're not familiar with Wu this will be a great help and it prompts you as you set up your store. There's also a 12-part email series that you can opt into. You know what's the opt out of it. You opt into it for tips and ideas towards making the first sale, security and how to create backups and more. Once you go and check out WuCommerce especially if you're in this group of people who needs a new default, you can get 20% off by using the code Developer Tea. Now again this is basically the very last day that you can do this. So if you're listening to this podcast the last day in March of 2018. This is the last day you get this 20% off. So head over to WuCommerce.com slash Developer Tea use the code Developer Tea that's all one word at checkout for that 20% off. Thank you again to WuCommerce for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. So how can we make statistics more approachable and redefine the meaning of statistics? The reality is part of the bad rap that statistics get is due to the perception that statistics themselves are prescriptive. And perhaps even the perspective that the reporting of those statistics is somehow one in the same as the statistic itself. We tend to distrust statistics because very often we see them not represent reality in some way or another. For example, polling. This is a commonly referred to subject when it comes to statistics. Other examples of this include disregarding the entire field of data study or data driven decision making or just statistics altogether ignoring the idea for example of trends because you believe that your data is insufficient. That you don't have enough information to be able to apply statistics or statistic models to the data that you're using. Perhaps the most common issue that we see with trusting statistics is not understanding how to parse them completely, how to really understand what they mean, what that data means. And this is partially the job of the people who are creating the communication for those statistics. For example, the people who create the data visualizations that are describing the actual data the statistic itself. We have a long hill to climb to convince people who already distrust or perhaps otherwise discard the concept of statistics as useful to them. We have a long hill to climb to convince those people that statistics are useful. But perhaps we can start by using everyday conversation as a beginning jumping off point. If you're listening to this and you fall in the category of someone who intuitively distrusts the conversations around statistics, I want to key in on a few things that we say in everyday conversation that actually allude to statistical properties, for example things like average. One example would be the term average. Very often we refer to the concept of average and we use the concept of average in conversation directly. But perhaps the more interesting kind of linguistic thing to note is we use terms that essentially mean the same thing as average or they may mean the same thing as mode or median very regularly in conversation. And the term that I just used regularly relies on some kind of collective assessment of multiple conversations, ten or five hundred. If I said I regularly talk about statistics concepts in my conversations, then I can look at the experience of multiple conversations that I've had and identify that once again multiple of those, perhaps more than not, have something to do with statistics. Even the term regularly, but we can also look at terms like usually, which is almost exactly the same meaning, usually has almost exactly the same meaning as mode. The thing that happens most often, mode is the piece of information that occurs most often. That's the biggest statistical kind of weighted term that we use all of the time and we don't really think actively about statistics is the word expect. When we use the word expect, we are using perhaps some complicated internal calculations. Those calculations may be informed by intuition or gut. They may be informed by emotions, they may be informed by logic. But ultimately, when we say something like, I expect X and Y to happen, we're making a claim that is based off of some kind of statistical process. This is very similar to forecasting. The process of forecasting uses information from the past in order to predict events of the future. When we say that we expect something to happen, for example, if I throw a ball up and 10 times out of 10, the ball comes down, then on time number 11, I expect the ball to come down. That's because in my mind, I've done a very simple calculation. This happens every time and therefore, based off of that 100% statistic, I expect the same thing to happen again. We're not trying to highlight the specific content of detail here. Really what we're trying to do is come to the realization that even if we believe that statistics are a cold and inhuman way of looking at life, we use them and we use terms that are statistical in nature to describe everyday life. This is much less about calculation and much more about information. And unfortunately, because the field of statistics is very often kind of convoluted with things like big data, we can easily see them as the same thing. This is important. Developers don't understand, we need to start talking about these things in much more human terms in ways that are more applicable to our current situations that help us solve problems rather than simply being interesting. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. We're going to continue this discussion and talk about more practical ways that you can apply these concepts to bring more statistical thinking into the work that you do and help others to think along similar lines so you can make better decisions. I want to take a moment to thank our sponsor once again. Today's sponsor is WooCommerce. If you need a default solution, go to kind of the Swiss Army knife of e-commerce solutions. Go and check out WooCommerce today. Today is kind of the last day that you can do this because you're going to get 20% off if you use the code Developer Tea at checkout head root WooCommerce.com slash Developer Tea right now for 20% off. Right after this show, I'm probably going to go downstairs and boil some water and make some loose leaf tea from none other than mad monk tea. I want you to go and check this out because if you've never had loose leaf tea, then you're missing out on what tea has to offer to you head over to madmunkt.com and if you use the code Developer Tea at checkout, you can get 15% off of your order. Madmunk tea is the first of my picks on this show for you. So go and check it out again madmunk tea. Use the code Developer Tea. Thank you so much for listening. I hope you will subscribe if you're interested in more discussions on things like statistics and all kinds of other things that are related to what it means to do good work as a developer. And until next time, enjoy your tea.