Thursday, July 18, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: The Cartoon Introduction to Statistics

We know teaching stats is not easy and students hate maths (and some of us do too). And yet, it is a rite of passage and we all have to get through it.

Well, The Cartoon Introduction to Statistics by Grady Klein and Alan Dabney might help. 

As the title helpfully notes, this is a cartoon book. It is also a very basic introduction to statistical concepts and ideas. May I emphasize: very basic.

And let me emphasize something else: no maths.

That’s right. There is a little appendix at the end with a few formulas but nothing much really. The whole idea is to focus on concepts, not technicalities and maths. In other words, this book is not a substitute for a regular statistical textbook. 

But it might make digesting the maths a bit easier. This book might be a nice addition to existing course materials if you are looking for something a little lighthearted and humorous.

I should also add that this book does not cover the entirety of the usual curriculum and topics that you would find in a regular undergraduate statistical course.

The book tries to convey a sense of how pervasive and useful statistics are in daily life. It uses concrete examples, again, with some humor. 

It does cover descriptive statistics, measures of central tendencies, normal distribution, the central limit theorem, a little bit of probabilities (but really, not a whole lot), inference and hypothesis testing, confidence levels and intervals. Again, with no maths.

There is a single idea that drives the entire book (and one that makes it, at times, a bit repetitive): one can really never know about the characteristics of an entire population, but we can know some things about parts of that population, through statistics. That is the main thesis. 

However, we can never be 100% sure of the information we get through statistics, because statistics do not measure entire populations, just little chunks of it, that is, samples. This is the theme of the book and this gets repeated in almost every chapter.

I would think that undergraduate students would find such a book attractive and fun to get through. The fictional examples used are indeed pretty fun (dragons, vikings, monsters, aliens, and Crazy Billy’s Bait Barn). 

Again, this will not substitute for textbooks, real maths, and real statistics professors, but this might make a nice (and relatively cheap) addition to any course.

Now, the cartooning … After all, this is a cartoon introduction. If you follow this blog, you know that we have a gallery of sociologists cartooned by Kevin Moore

I was not thrilled about the cartooning in the book. It might be partly because Kevin Moore has completely spoiled me because his cartooning is so great. The cartooning in Klein and Dabney’s book was, I think, a bit “fuzzy”. 

I tend to think clear-cut things and the cartooning felt unfinished and a bit sloppy. It was not the grey scale. I was ok with that and full colors might have actually made the whole thing look too busy. I just wish the drawing had been clearer and neater.

But, again, this might be worth recommending to students who are a bit worried about having to take a statistics class. More than that, I think there is a lot of room for more cartooning introduction to sociology-related topics.

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