Dance, dance, dance…

Ever thought: ‘I’m pretty sure I would fully understand Statistics, if only a modern dance company would illustrate the techniques for me’?

I hope you get the idea of what I’m trying to do with this blog by now. Fundamentally, Statistics is a very intuitive subject, but that intuition is often masked by technicalities, so that from the outside the subject can seem both boring and impenetrable. The aim of all of my posts is to try to show that neither of those things is true: Statistics is both fascinating and easily understandable. And in this way, whatever your connection to Smartodds, you’ll be better equipped to understand the statistical side of the company’s operations.

Of course, I’m not the only person to try to de-mystify Statistics, and there are many books, blogs and other learning aids with similar aims.

With this in mind, I recently came across a rather unusual set of resources for learning Statistics: a series of dance videos whose aim is to explain statistical concepts through movement. Probably my ‘favourite’ is this one, which deals with the notions of sampling and standard error. You might like to take a look…

I think it fair to say that the comments on these videos on YouTube are mixed. One person wrote:

This way it makes complicated things look simpler. Very informative and useful. Loved it. 🙂

While another said:

this makes simple things look complicated but thanks anyway

So, I guess it depends on your perspective. I think I’m on the side of the latter commenter though: I’m pretty sure that in 5 minutes I could give a much clearer and more entertaining explanation of the issues this film is trying to address than the film does itself. But maybe that’s not the point. Perhaps the point is that different things hook different people in, and while personally I can’t think of a much more complicated way of thinking about issues of sampling and measuring accuracy, the dance perspective seems to work for some people.

Anyway, if you think this might be the key to help you unlock some of the mysteries of Statistics, you can find the full series of four videos here, covering topics like correlation and standard deviation. Enjoy.


Statistics by pictures

Generally speaking there are three main phases to any statistical analysis:

  1. Design;
  2. Execution;
  3. Presentation.

Graphical techniques play an important part in both the second and third phases, but the emphasis is different in each. In the second phase the aim is usually exploratory, using graphical representations of data summaries to hunt for structure and relationships that might subsequently be exploited in a formal statistical model. The graphs here tend to be quick but rough, and are intended more for the statistician than the client.

In the presentation phase the emphasis is a bit different, since the analysis has already been completed, usually involving some sort of statistical model and inference. In this case diagrams are used to highlight the results to clients or a wider audience in a way that illustrates most effectively the salient features of the analysis. Very often the strength of message from a statistical analysis is much more striking when presented graphically rather than in the form of numbers. Moreover, some statisticians have also developed the procedure into something of an art form, using graphical techniques not just to convey the results of the analysis, but also to put them back in the context from where the data derive.

One of my favourite exponents of this technique is Mona Chalabi, who has regular columns in the Guardian. among other places.

Here are a few of her examples:

Most Popular Dog Names in New York


A Complete History of the Legislation of Same-Sex Marriage 


The Most Pirated Christmas Movies


And last and almost certainly least…



Tell you what though… that looks a bit more than 16% to me, suggesting a rather excessive use of artistic licence in this particular case.