Sunday, January 6, 2013

Brief Overview of Standard Error

As I begin teaching a statistics course next semester, I've been spending the past couple of weeks hitting the books and refreshing my statistical knowledge; however, to my dismay, I remember virtually nothing of what was taught during my salad days of college, when my greatest concern was how fast I could run eight kilometers, and whether there would be enough ice cream left over in the Burton Dining Hall after a late workout. You laugh now, but during certain eras of one's lifetime, there are specific things that take on especial significance, only to be later ridiculed or belittled; as what is important to an adult may seem insignificant to a child, whereas what is a matter of life and death for the child may seem silly to the adult, even though there is, deep down, recognition of the same hopes and fears, the child the father of the man.

In any case, imagine my sphincter-tightening (and subsequent releasing) horror when I realized how little I actually knew, and with what haste I began to relearn the fundamentals; not only in statistics, but in several other related fields, such as biology, physics, eschatology, chemistry, and astrology, which are needed to have any sense about what one is doing when analyzing neuroimaging data. It is one thing to bandy about the usual formulas and fill them in as needed; it is completely another to learn enough jargon so that, even if you still do not understand it, you can use enough impressive-sounding words to allay any fears that you are hopelessly, utterly ignorant. And this, I maintain, is the end of all good education.

I leave you with one of the most famous quotes about the value of education, from George Washington's second inaugural address:

Power flows to the one who knows how. Desire alone is not enough.

More details about standard error can be found in the following video, which features a legit, squeaking chalkboard.

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