statistics

It has been a gruesome few weeks for United Airlines. After making international headlines for dragging a paying customer off a plane, it earned yet more notoriety when a giant bunny died on one of its flights. 

This led Business Insider to research which airline was the worst when it came to pet deaths. Its investigation led to the brutal headline: "United had more pet deaths in 2016 than any other major US airline."

Ouch! But is it true? Technically yes, but statistically no. And it's the statistics that matter, not the raw numbers.

Here's the original graphic Business Insider created:

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My colleague, ACSH Senior Nutrition Fellow Dr. Ruth Kava, wrote about a recent study on trans fats and their possible role in reducing heart attacks and stroke. The study made use of a statistical technique called Difference-in-Difference (DID) and it's worth explaining the underlying concept, because it was not a prominent feature of the statistics course I took in school.

Observational studies are different than experiments. what most people think of as science, in that they observe a population over time. Observational studies, often case-control or cohort studies, can be difficult to interpret, in part, because of difficulty in truly identifying the...

One of the major reasons scientific research is facing a reproducibility problem is because of poor use of statistics. In a bombshell 2005 article that still reverberates in the halls of academia (and industry), John Ioannidis used mathematics to coolly demonstrate why most published research findings are false1

Statistics is difficult, and choosing the proper tools becomes more challenging as experiments become more complex. That's why it's not uncommon for large genetics or epidemiological studies to have a biostatistician as a co-author. Perhaps more...

There are a lot of Seahawks haters out there. Apparently, a popular insult hurled at the team is that it is a "Johnny-come-lately" franchise supported by a bunch of bandwagon fans. The problem for the haters, however, is that statistics show it's not true.

To be sure, every team has some bandwagon fans. A statistical analysis of Major League Baseball teams showed a small correlation between success on the field and attendance. Even the St. Louis Cardinals, a team that is considered to have the most loyal baseball...

The statement, "Statistics isn't science," is about as banal as, "The sky is blue," or, "Puppies are cute." Anyone remotely familiar with the scientific method understands that, just like a ruler or a telescope, statistics is a tool. Scientists use the tool primarily for one purpose: To answer the question, "Is my data meaningful?" Properly used, statistics is one of the most powerful tools in a scientists' tool belt. 

But improperly used, statistics can be highly misleading. If an astronomer only points his telescope at the sun, he won't be able to see the Milky Way behind it. Worse, he will arrive at a very twisted understanding of the universe; he will conclude that everything beyond Earth is orange and fiery. Similarly, if a statistician plugs the wrong numbers into an...

Nate Silver, statistician and election forecaster, said on ABC News that election forecasts that give Hillary Clinton a 99% of chance of winning don't "pass a common sense test." That is certainly true. What he leaves unsaid, possibly because it wouldn't be good for his career, is that all election forecasts that provide a "chance of winning" don't pass the science test.

Earlier, we published an article explaining why there is no such thing as a scientific poll. In a nutshell, because...

Every four years, Americans become obsessed with The Polls. What do the polls say? Have the polls shifted? Which presidential candidate is up, and which is down? Entire careers have been built (and destroyed) by analyzing The Sacred Polls.

Savvy politicos know that not just any poll will do. Online polls, in which anybody can vote, are not legitimate. The reason is because they do not accurately reflect the voting public. Imagine, for instance, a poll on Starbucks' website asking readers if they like to drink coffee every day. In this hypothetical poll, it would not be a surprise if nearly 100% of respondents said "yes," even though only 64% of Americans drink coffee...