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What is a p-value anyway? 34 Stories to Help You Actually Understand Statistics [Paperback]

Andrew J. Vickers
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)

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Book Description

November 28, 2009 0321629302 978-0321629302 1

What is a p-value Anyway? offers a fun introduction to the fundamental principles of statistics, presenting the essential concepts in thirty-four brief, enjoyable stories. Drawing on his experience as a medical researcher, Vickers blends insightful explanations and humor, with minimal math, to help readers understand and interpret the statistics they read every day.


Describing data; Data distributions; Variation of study results: confidence intervals; Hypothesis testing; Regression and decision making; Some common statistical errors, and what they teach us


For all readers interested in statistics.

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What is a p-value anyway? 34 Stories to Help You Actually Understand Statistics + Naked Statistics: Stripping the Dread from the Data + The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail — but Some Don't
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Andrew Vickers, PhD, is an Associate Attending Research Methodologist in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. He is active in a variety of fields of cancer research, and also conducts original research in statistical methods, particularly with respect to the evaluation of prediction models. Dr. Vickers has been course leader for the biostatistics course at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center since 2001, and has taught biostatistics to medical students at Cornell Medical School since 2000. Dr. Vickers received a First Class BA in History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Cambridge and a PhD in Clinical Medicine from the University of Oxford.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Pearson; 1 edition (November 28, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0321629302
  • ISBN-13: 978-0321629302
  • Product Dimensions: 2.7 x 3.5 x 0.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #49,005 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
161 of 163 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A statistics book that's fun and informative July 16, 2010
I'm a Ph.D. statistician at Baylor University in the Department of Statistical Science. I teach statistics courses at many different levels, and read several statistics books a year. I'm always on the lookout for a good book that my students can relate to, but rarely - if ever - have I found a book I can recommend to my colleagues, our department's Ph.D. students, M.S. students, undergraduate majors, and those students who are majoring in some other subject area (not statistics) who are required to take a statistics course. That was, until now ...

The little monograph by Andrew Vickers is absolutely a fun book to read - and how many times can it be said that a book about P-values is fun? My husband is often subjected to my very serious face and quietness as I read a statistics book. He often jokes that I look like I'm angry or in pain. But with this book, heard me laugh out loud, and do so often. Andrew Vicker's "What is a p-Value Anyway?" contains 34 short stories that wittily illustrate the correct way to think about and apply statistics in terms everyone can relate to and understand.

Vickers manages to put statistical concepts into a fun, understandable light that is entertaining and informative, no matter what your level of understanding and education in statistics. I highly recommend this book.
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81 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The funniest and clearest statistics book ever! April 10, 2010
A couple of years ago, because on an error (?) in the IT system of the Italian IRS (Tax Agency), the incomes of all Italians were downloadable from the Agency site. The "error" was discovered and cleared after a few hours, but in the meantime a lot of people had already downloaded the files.
So did a friend of mine, living in Milan. Early in the morning he called me. His voice sounded, at the same time, angry and depressed. "How can I be so underpaid? I downloaded the incomes of people living in Milan and computed and re-computed the average all the night. I discovered that my salary is very, very low! The mean income of people in Milan is much higher!!" "Well, that's the Berlusconi's effect", I replied, "don't worry, take the median instead of the mean, and you'll recover your self-esteem... and stop your wife's complains".
But I wasn't persuasive the phone, without paper and pencil, I couldn't explain him the impact of outliers and the meaning of skewness, and he started looking for another job.
Had this happened now, I would simply send him a copy of "What is a p-value anyway", and a couple of pages at the beginning would explain him the concepts, using Bill Gates instead of Berlusconi. The concepts and ideas of statistics are indeed the focus of this book, from basic ones like median and mean, to more advanced ones like hypothesis testing, regression, logistic regression, survival analysis etc. These concepts are explained, without formulas, by means of funny stories, that you can tell to your friends at a party, or use with your students to raise their attention. Moreover, stories stay attached to our neurons, and we, or our student, don't forget them and their embedded concepts.
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37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific teaching aid for reaching the math-phobic January 31, 2010
As a teacher in a school of public health and formerly in a medical school, I've been a fan of Dr. Vickers' work for years, beginning with his columns published in Medscape--many of which I'm revisiting in the book. By way of revealing conflict of interest, I sent Dr. Vickers a fan email a few years ago asking "when will you write a book?" because I felt it would be a great supplemental read for my students.
"What is a p-value anyway" won't substitute for an introductory statistics textbook, but it makes a terrific companion piece. Some folks actually come to an understanding of statistics through equations. I once co-presented with a real biostatistician. All the other biostatisticians in the room followed her pointer through the equations like kittens watching a ball. Most of us, though, and definitely most students, need folksier explanations. Dr. Vickers excels at these. He uses simple, catchy examples to teach concepts ranging from the difference between the median and the mean ("So Bill Gates walks into a diner....") through the statistical consequences of multiple testing on the same data set ("Boy meets girls, girl rejects boy, boy starts multiple testing"). I particularly like the title of the last chapter, which echoes my own approach to analysis in health services research: "Statistics is about people, even if you can't see the tears."
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51 of 56 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, but limited March 14, 2012
This book aims to provide a primarily qualitative understanding of key ideas in statistics. The approach is to describe the ideas in some detail, illustrated with examples, while almost entirely avoiding math. Overall, I think the author has made a good effort in this regard, and his humor does liven things up, but ultimately the strict avoidance of the math proves to be a significant limitation. Every mathematical formula may not be worth a thousand words, but the good ones come close. I can still recommend this book, but I think that a book which doesn't shy away from presenting at least some math would be a better choice for most people.

In any case, here are the key ideas from the book which I found noteworthy:

(1) As measures of central tendency, both mean and median values have their use. Medians are often more useful when there are outliers, whereas means are often more useful for decision-making. Using both together will sometimes also make sense.

(2) Normal distributions describe many natural phenomena, as well as the additive effect of many random events (central limit theorem). However, many phenomena are limited to non-negative values and involve multiplicative effects, so the resulting distributions are non-normal and right-skewed; sometimes these distributions can be converted to normal by taking the log of the data.

(3) With normal distributions, about 50% of data falls within 2/3 of a standard deviation, 67% within one standard deviation, and 95% within two standard deviations (the typical confidence interval). When data are highly skewed, medians and percentiles (eg, quartiles) are often more useful than means and standard deviations.

(4) Study bias can come from many sources during study design, conduct, and analysis.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars It does what it was meant to do
In order to properly evaluate this book, it's important to keep in mind what it is and what it is not -- i.e. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Gregory J. Casteel
4.0 out of 5 stars Soothing for people who are afraid of statistics
This book does a brilliant job of introducing key statistical concepts while avoiding calculations or formulas. Read more
Published 7 months ago by I Teach Typing
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book with helpful learning points
This is like Andy Field's stats book in that it's very enjoyable to read. The anecdotes are excellent and really help digest the learning.
Published 9 months ago by Boris
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read!
Easy to read and understand. Makes you think, but makes you laugh too. Great buy! Definitely worth the time to learn a little more about statistics!
Published 9 months ago by Emily Helms
2.0 out of 5 stars No problem set
This books was fine, but not problem sets were included so it actually had very limited practical use in teaching statistics.
Published 9 months ago by Norris G. Edwards
4.0 out of 5 stars Fun and easy to read
The book is helpful in providing ways to explain difficult statistical concepts to students. It is probably more useful for individual students than for teaching.
Published 9 months ago by mathcoach
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent!
Statistics is a subject that has taken me ages to wrap my head around. Despite some criticisms of the book, (which coming from people more learned than I am in this area, I cannot... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Statistics with Words Instead of Formulas
Despite a general absence of formulas, there is much information in this entertaining book, including on the use and misuse of statistical techniques. Read more
Published 12 months ago by G. Poirier
5.0 out of 5 stars Statistics is awesome!!
This book is fun and easy to read. Plus he writes with a sense of humor that is entertaining. He makes Statistics understandable, taking away all the complicated formulas. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Batmanfan2
5.0 out of 5 stars Yes, learning statistics can be fun
I was drawn to this book for three reasons:

1. Using statistics is part of my day job, so any additional learning material is always welcome (I am not a... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Edmon Begoli
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