teapaper_lee

teapaper_lee - Lady Tasting Tea paper BE.104 Spring 2005...

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Lady Tasting Tea paper BE.104 Spring 2005 Sueann Lee The title of the book undoubtedly first caught my attention. What is this book about, and what is it doing in my list of books for a class on toxicology and chemicals? Going on, I found that the first paragraph of the book is all about an anecdote of how a lady insisted that she could tell the difference between tea where milk was added first, and tea where milk was added last. How can we tell? This brought out one of the main characters in the huge, brilliant cast of the book -- R.A. Fisher, and his method of hypothesis testing. For such a minor problem, one might doubt the necessity of invoking statistical methods to tell differences between hypothesis, but upon further reflections it should dawn upon us that many problems in science involves hypotheses that need to be validated by experimental data, and it may be more difficult to reach the conclusions then we think given that no experiment is ever 'ideal'. The 20 th century saw a huge increase in scientific research in fields ranging from agriculture to medicine to different fields of engineering. As scientists came up with ever more hypotheses, it became increasingly evident that science is inextricably linked with mathematics. As modern medicine emerge, statistics steadily attached itself to the work of medicine and ultimately came to sit in judgment on it, literally, gaining public acceptance as ‘the way’ for sound science. What is statistics? The word ‘statistics’ seem to have two meanings – the use of numbers to describe whole patterns of activity, and the analytic methods that allow manipulations of such data. Author David Salsburg believes, rightfully, that the public is not fully aware of the degree to which recent developments in statistics impact the way we perceive the world. True, I concede that before taking this course and reading this book, I looked at statistics as a tool that is, although useful, rather dispensable, being not at the heart of the scientific question. I also tended to think of statistics as a rather negative tool that is easily abused by media and propaganda, used by people who are intent on using a tool without considering the implications or liabilities of using that tool. What I missed is that statistics is essential for deciphering useful conclusive data amongst random scatter. The idea that “whatever we measure is really part of a random scatter” is central to all science and one of the central ideas that started off the statistical revolution beginning with Pearson and carried forward by generations after generations of brilliant statisticians and mathematicians.
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The book established the importance of statistics through many examples of revolutions in fields of science and technology brought about by statistical models and methods. Fisher, in his early days before he was an established statistician, dug through ninety years of experimentation that was, for the most part, “a mess of confusion and vast troves of
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This note was uploaded on 11/11/2011 for the course BIO 20.010j taught by Professor Lindagriffith during the Spring '06 term at MIT.

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teapaper_lee - Lady Tasting Tea paper BE.104 Spring 2005...

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