next up previous
Next: Stable Processes Up: Module 1: Introduction Previous: Skills

Statistics in Real Life

We know a famous statistician who carries a notebook in his pocket. In this notebook, he records his ``defects''. By a ``defect'' he means substandard performance on any of a number of activities that he is trying to improve on. On one recent visit with him, we noticed him giving himself a ``defect'' for such things as making an unkind remark, eating too many helpings of artery-clogging food and taking an elevator when he could have walked one flight of stairs. His goal is self improvement, or, as he phrases it ``zero defects''.

Perhaps he sounds eccentric, but if you stop and think about it, he has one very real advantage over the rest of us: he knows where he is in his efforts at self-improvement and he knows how successful his efforts have been up to now. He has the data to show him. Not opinions or guesses or feelings. Data.

If you know anything about recent history, you know that in the last two decades American companies in many manufacturing sectors have been driven near to or to extinction by overseas competition. American consumer electronics (TVs, VCRs, camcorders, etc) is an extinct industry. American auto manufacturers are making a sustained comeback from near extinction. Curiously, the story of these industries has a lot to do with the famous statistician and his ``defects''.

The decline of these American industries came about for a number of reasons, but one important reason was the ability of overseas competitors to make products that were superior to ours at a lower cost. And one reason they were able to do this was that they were doing exactly what the statistician does: they kept track of ``defects'' and constantly strove to obtain ``zero defects''. In the 1980s this quality improvement strategy was adopted by American auto manufacturers and has largely succeeded, as shown by the resurgence of the American auto industry.

What the statistician and the manufacturers have in common is the collection of data and its use in improving quality. This involves the use of statistics. Statistics is the science (some would call it an art) of data: collecting data, analyzing data and interpreting data.

In this course, we hope to show you statistics as something you can and will use in your career, in your civic life and in your personal life. You will find it useful in your career as we all move into the information age (information=data!), where you will be asked to obtain, process and make decisions based on data. As a citizen in a democratic republic, you will be asked to make choices based on candidates' or policymakers' competing claims (claims=data!). It will be up to you to obtain and process the data necessary to make intelligent decisions. Finally, statistics can help you in your personal life. The famous statistician's quest for self-improvement is one example. In the next section and in the exercises is another. Perhaps you can think of a way to collect and use data to help improve the quality of your life.

Figure:   Bar Chart of KWH

Figure:   Plot of KWH versus Date with Horizontal Bar Chart

next up previous
Next: Stable Processes Up: Module 1: Introduction Previous: Skills

Joseph D Petruccelli
Tue Feb 21 14:15:46 EST 1995