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Intuitive Biostatistics: a Nonmathematical Guide to Statistical Thinking, 2nd Revised Edition [Paperback]

Harvey Motulsky
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)

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Intuitive Biostatistics: A Nonmathematical Guide to Statistical Thinking, 3rd edition Intuitive Biostatistics: A Nonmathematical Guide to Statistical Thinking, 3rd edition 4.7 out of 5 stars (9)
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Book Description

January 20, 2010 0199730067 978-0199730063 2nd Revised & enlarged
Intuitive Biostatistics is both an introduction and review of statistics. Compared to other books, it has:
  • Breadth rather than depth. It is a guidebook, not a cookbook.
  • Words rather than math. It has few equations.
  • Explanations rather than recipes. This book presents few details of statistical methods and only a few tables required to complete the calculations.
Who is it for?
I wrote Intuitive Biostatistics for three audiences:
  • Medical (and other) professionals who want to understand  the statistical portions of journals they read. These readers don't need to analyze any data, but need to understand analyses published by others.
  • Undergraduate and graduate students, post-docs and researchers who will analyze data. This book explains general principles of data analysis, but it won't teach you how to do statistical calculations or how to use any particular statistical program. 
  • Scientists who consult with statisticians. Statistics often seems like a foreign language, and this text can serve as a phrase book to bridge the gap  between scientists and statisticians.
What's new in the second edition?
Though the spirit of the first edition remains, very few of its words do. It is hard to explain what is new in this edition, since I essentially rewrote the entire book. New and expanded topics in the second edition of Intuitive Biostatistics include:
  • Chapter 1 explains how our intuitions can lead us astray in issues of probability and statistics.
  • Chapter 11 (and later examples) highlight the fact that lognormal distributions are common.
  • Chapter 21 explains the idea of testing for equivalence vs. testing for differences. 
  • Chapters 22, 23, and 40 discuss the pervasive problem of multiple comparisons. 
  • Chapters 24 and 25 discuss testing for normality and for outliers.
  • Chapter 35 shows how to think about statistical hypothesis testing as comparing the fits of alternative models.
  • Chapters 37 and 38 give expanded coverage of the usefulness--and traps--of multiple, logistic, and proportional hazards regression.
  • Chapter 43 briefly mentions adaptive study designs where sample size is not chosen in advance.
  • Chapter 46 (inspired by, and written with, Bill Greco) reviews many topics in this book and more general issues of how to approach data analysis.

Editorial Reviews


I am entranced by the book.  Statistics is often difficult for many scientists to fully appreciate. Your writing style and explanation makes the concepts accessible.  ----Tim Bushnell, Director of Flow Cytometry, Univ. Rochester Med. Center (added by author)

"The second edition of Intuitive Biostatistics is a substantial improvement. I am particularly impressed by the chapters on multiple comparisons. This is increasingly important for such molecular trickery as gene expression chips, which produce a very large number of possible comparisons. Individual comparisons and even a Bonferroni correction are often inadequate. Motulsky deals with a newer method, false discovery rate (FDR), in a clear, understandable way. I'll be recommending the new edition with even greater enthusiasm."--James F. Crow, University of Wisconsin

"This splendid book meets a major need in public health, medicine, and biomedical research training--a user-friendly biostatistics text for non-mathematicians that clearly explains how to make sense of statistical results and how to avoid being confused by statistical nonsense. You may enjoy statistics for the first time!"--Gilbert S. Omenn, Professor of Medicine, Genetics, Public Health, and Computational Medicine & Bioinformatics, University of Michigan

From the Author

View the web page for this book, including errata, at

Part A: Introducing Statistics 
1. Statistics and Probability Are Not Intuitive 3
2. Why Statistics Can Be Hard to Learn 14
3. From Sample to Population 17
Part B: Confidence Intervals 
4. Confidence Interval of a Proportion 25
5. Confidence Interval of Survival Data 38
6. Confidence Interval of Counted Data 47
Part C: Continuous Variables 
7. Graphing Continuous Data 57
8. Types of Variables 67
9. Quantifying Scatter 71
10. The Gaussian Distribution 78
11. The Lognormal Distribution and Geometric Mean 83
12. Confidence Interval of a Mean 87
13. The Theory of Confidence Intervals 96
14. Error Bars 103
PART D: P Values and Significance 
15. Introducing P Values 111
16. Statistical Significance and Hypothesis Testing 122
17. Relationship Between Confidence Intervals and Statistical Significance 130
18. Interpreting a Result That Is Statistically Significant 134
19. Interpreting a Result That Is Not Statistically Significant 141
20. Statistical Power 146
21. Testing for Equivalence or Noninferiority 150
PART E: Challenges in Statistics 
22. Multiple Comparisons Concepts 159
23. Multiple Comparison Traps 168
24. Gaussian or Not? 175
25. Outliers 181
PART F: Statistical Tests 
26. Comparing Observed and Expected Distributions 191
27. Comparing Proportions: Prospective and Experimental Studies 196
28. Comparing Proportions: Case-Control Studies 203
29. Comparing Survival Curves 210
30. Comparing Two Means: Unpaired t Test 219
31. Comparing Two Paired Groups 231
32. Correlation 243
PART G: Fitting Models to Data 
33. Simple Linear Regression 255
34. Introducing Models 270
35. Comparing Models 276
36. Nonlinear Regression 285
37. Multiple, Logistic, and Proportional Hazards Regression 296
38. Multiple Regression Traps 315
PART H The Rest of Statistics 321
39. Analysis of Variance 323
40. Multiple Comparison Tests After ANOVA 331
41. Nonparametric Methods 344
42. Sensitivity and Specificity and Receiver-Operator Characteristic Curves 354
43. Sample Size 363
PART I Putting It All Together 375
44. Statistical Advice  377
45. Choosing a Statistical Test  387
46. Capstone Example 390
47. Review Problems 406
48. Answers to Review Problems 418
A. Statistics With GraphPad 451
B. Statistics With Excel 456
C. Statistics With R 458
D. Values of the t Distribution Needed to Compute CIs 460
E. A Review of Logarithms 462

Product Details

  • Paperback: 508 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 2nd Revised & enlarged edition (January 20, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199730067
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199730063
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #225,093 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

After graduating medical school and doing an internship in internal medicine, I switched to research in receptor pharmacology research (and published over 50 peer reviewed articles). While I was on the faculty in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of California San Diego, I was given the job of teaching statistics to first year medical students and to graduate students. The syllabus for those courses grew into the first edition of Intuitive Biostatistics.

I hated creating graphs by hand, so I created some programs to do so. I also created some simple statistics programs when I saw that the existing statistical software, while great for statisticians, was overkill for most scientists. These efforts became the beginnings of GraphPad Software, Inc. (, which has been a full-time endeavor for me for many years.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book for understanding statistics June 29, 2012
I studied statistics nearly all my life, and even then, this book was an enlightenment to me. I would recommend it not only to biostatistocians, but also for other fields where statistics is heavily used.

I bought this book as a recommendation from my supervisor, who owns a previous edition. But after I started reading it, and tell him the concepts, and why our data looked like it did, and why we did not get significant results or why we did get it, and whats a true meaning of t-statistics, and the theory behind confidence intervals, we decided to compare the versions, and we realized that first edition was way more formal and mathematical. So now he ordered this new addition too.

There are nearly no formulas in the book, it is very easy to read from head to tail. It's almost like reading a novel!

I am already half way through and I am very looking forward for the next chapter, which in fact never happened to me when reading a scientific material. Also, Q&A section is very nice, where you can check your understanding of concepts, or just see the correct answers to tricky questions.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intuitive Biostatistics: A Life Saver! July 17, 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I'm a retired cancer researcher (molecular biology) turned biomedical writer/editor. My use of statistics (and increasing ignorance thereof) was limited, because, in general, if an experiment didn't yield at least a 10x difference, we threw it out. Now I can't do my job without knowing biostatistics. Moltulsky's book has been enormously helpful in teaching me the basics of biostatistics and enabling me to evaluate manuscripts for correct use of statistical terms and methods. Previously I used (and still do) Motulsky's manual for his GraphPad software, the AMA Manual online, and, of course, the internet. The only problem with the book is that a digital version isn't available. However, as the author pointed out to me, you can search the book to some extent on its product page. Finally, the author's immediately available via email. This is a terrific resource and value!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding September 8, 2011
By Bitz
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a wonderful book that clearly and creatively explains some difficult epidemiologic and biostatistical concepts. As a practicing epidemiologist I find this book an invaluable reference. A must have for any graduate student in public health.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent for clinicians September 10, 2010
By Tesla
First off, if you do not want to pay $50 for this book, search the Internet for used copies of the 1st edition. I got mine for $13 at Barnes and Nobles. I have not read the 2nd edition, but I doubt much has changed in statistics over the last 15 years so I assume they are pretty much the same.

This is an excellent review for clinicians who read a lot of journals and clinical trials. I've read other statistics books and they tend to be written more for students who have to perform calculations on tests. This book sticks more to concepts and stays away from formulas - most of which only mathematicians would truly understand. After reading this book, I feel I can better evaluate a clinical trial.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent biostatistics book for clinicians January 2, 2012
In the everyday lives of physicians, interpreting scientific work is crucial. A great deal of doctors are involved in clinical research. Biostatistics is, however, by some considered difficult and thus repels some physicians from conducting research. The present book gives an excellent introductory text on statistics. The number of equations are kept to a minimum, and the emphasis is on understanding statistics. As a physician, I would certainly recommend this book to my colleagues.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great statistics book for lay people September 26, 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Great book for the non- researcher. Perfect for doctors who need to analyze the literature. Very intuitive approach, little math skills needed, but includes equations when helpful and for those interested in the math.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Really helpful! September 2, 2011
By rachelz
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book covers all of the essential biostatistics topics that I've ever encountered (I'm a PhD student studying environmental health). What is unique about this book, and incredibly helpful, is that it describes statistical tests and concepts using WORDS, not formulas, numbers, or proofs. This is incredibly rare when it comes to statistics books.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who, after consulting a standard biostatistics textbook, is left saying "huh?"
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intuitive *Statistics* May 12, 2011
Sure, the title of the book is 'Intuitive *bio*statistics'. Maybe only a medical researcher is exposed to sufficiently many variations of statistical problems to write such a book. The 'bio' part only applies to the case examples. While a layman will not be able to grasp the details of the biological or medical questions discussed in the examples, anyone will be able to understand the statistical reasoning and the trade-offs and choises made.

Anyone working with statistics will benefit from reading this book.

As for rating, I could have given it four stars in anticipation of a future 3rd edition that might have addressed the bio/med layman rather than the biotech/medicine professional. But this book is out there now. 5 stars, no question.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Wrong book with wrong cover
I had ordered this book but got a wrong book with wrong cover page. The book cover says "Intuitive Bio statistics" but the whole content is of an economics related stuff from a... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Rajashekar
5.0 out of 5 stars Good introduction to biostatistics
This book presents most of the common statistical methods in a conceptual way and gives many examples from actual biomedical studies. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Sohaib Hussam Abu-Farsakh
5.0 out of 5 stars Significantly Better Than Any Other Statistics Textbook I've Seen (p...
Absolutely phenomenal. I have yet to find a topic related to statistics in clinical research that isn't clearly and concisely explained in this book.
Published 8 months ago by MAF
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book
The book addresses the essence of statistics, with a clear and entertaining style. I recommend it to all undergraduate and graduate student, who wishes to acquire a solid... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Raul Vinet Huerta
5.0 out of 5 stars An unexpectedly amazing investment
I am a scientist and have a side interest in statistics -- after all statistics quantifies randomness, error and helps us interpret meaning from data. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Clare G.
4.0 out of 5 stars Solid book that covers a good amount of material.
Solid book that covers a good amount of material. I wouldn't really call it intuitive, although that is a great word choice for a book aimed at folks like myself. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Brad Lian
3.0 out of 5 stars Not so intuitive
Not an easy read by any means. It is large and requires time to delve into. Would only recommend it if you can dedicate 1-2 hours daily for a month or so.
Published 15 months ago by juan gonzalez
5.0 out of 5 stars Clear and useful
This biostatistics book is very well written with lots of examples from real experimental data. It is easy to follow and one can always go back to it as a reference when in doubt... Read more
Published 17 months ago by g2010
5.0 out of 5 stars Oh, yeah, I definitely needed this book
My stats background is weak, and I have only so much time available to strengthen it. As my research develops, I need to be able to talk with statisticians and this book is helping... Read more
Published 18 months ago by Brent Russell
5.0 out of 5 stars Practical, pragmatic, relevant, easy to read
This statistics book is very readable and understandable, targeting scientists in biological sciences, medical doctors etc... Read more
Published 22 months ago by Scott
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