Subject: Re: [isostat] stat in econ/public policy books, etc.
From: "Steve C. Wang"
Date: Thu, 27 Jul 2006 14:14:39 -0400

Last week I asked for suggestions for general-interest (i.e., non-textbook)
reading on stats in econ or public policy for a student of mine. It was
suggested to me that I summarize the responses I received, so here they are
(with names removed).

My original request:
I have a student who is interested in applications of statistics in
economics and public policy, and he's looking for a book to read over the
summer. He's looking for something that can be read cover-to-cover, as
opposed to a textbook or reference book. He's also looking for something
that would convey an idea of how stats is used in those fields, rather than
teaching how to carry out the actual methodology -- sort of like a Stephen
Jay Gould book, but for stats.

My first thoughts were "Statistics: A Guide to the Unknown", and
"Freakonomics" by Steven Levitt. Any other ideas?

The replies:

There are some older books - one by Federer comes to mind - it may be hard
to find.  Dekker published it.

Another option might be on the history of statistics.  Hald has a
wonderful two volume set (Wiley), and there is the more recent history by
Steve Stigler.  F.N. David had a book on Games, Gods and Gambling
(Hafner?).  These aren't specifically econ/public policy.

Another issue might be that a "read-through" is not likely to take.
Statistics isn't a spectator sport, so some questions/projects etc. in
addition could be helpful.  For example, having the student dig out some
data in his/her field and write a report on it.  Maybe do some graphs

You didn't mention if the student has had a course in statistics yet.  If
not, this would be a natural step for the fall.  I don't like the idea of
"learning" statistics as a reading course, although a lot of distance
learning is working that way.  The difference is that homework assignments
and exams are usually required.

How about "Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of
Risk" by Bernstein. It's a very entertaining book on
the history of probability, statistics and their
application in economics.

I think the Tanur book is a good choice. It's dated, but the case
studies are still relevant and interesting. I was talking to one of my
econ students about freakonomics, and we both described cringing at the
conclusions made at various points. It is a fun read, and explores a
lot of statistical problems you wouldn't normally think of an economist
tackling (did I tell you Steve Levitt was in my graduating class of 80
>from St. Paul Academy?). Concepts and controversies is also good (as
you know) but is a little more of a text book and maybe too elementary.

Freakonomics is great, and I think the actual economic research is very
accessible.  I'd recommend that he read the book and the actual papers
that support the claims.

I know a book that's very good for economics majors. But it's a
textbook. The book is: Applied regression analysis, by Terry Dielman,
Thomson, Brooks/Cole. Again, this is NOT exactly what you look, as I am
using it in my regression course, a good text book.

The first thing coming to mind would be to do a search using
"econometrics" and see where such leads.

With respect to Steve's comment regarding cover-to-cover reading of a
textbook, I believe that if we are dealing with a well-written book (such
as any of the Fab Five), then it would be a good idea for the first-time
teacher to read such cover-to-cover during the summer before first
teaching the course.

Relatedly, if I had to pick one textbook to recommend to a teacher who
will eventually be teaching APStat that is in line with Steve's
(unrelated) request and best reads like a nontextbook, then I would
recommend David S. Moore and William I. Notz's Statistics: Concepts and
Controversies (Sixth Edition), where the three-word subtitle expresses one
big reason why well. In a nutshell, ignoring the exercise sets (which may
be difficult to do because, although they're fairly straightforward,
they're somewhat intriguing), the book reads like what it is, namely a
24-chapter book of commentary.

PS: For those who are unaware, is was Dr. Moore's SCC that was the
foundation for the much of the way things are presented in APStat as well
as in the typical intro college class today.

Yes, Freakonomics comes highly recommended.  Levitt is a world class
economist and a really good econometrician.  My son read it after he
graduated from high school and really liked it.  Lots of good
inferential statistics.

Against the Gods, the Remarkable Story of Risk by Peter Bernstein is
excellent and easy to read.

Steve: Your two choices: "Stats, Guide to Unknown" and "Freakonomics", are
both good, for different reasons.  Freako is very amorphous but inspiring
(I almost objected to it.)

You might also consider the special issue of Statistical Science,
described below (I wrote it up for College Math. Journal column, "Media
Highlights".)  If anything else comes to mind, I'll relay it, though I
suspect you'll get plenty of suggestions from isostat.
Special Section: How to Lie with Statistics Turns Fifty.  Statistical
Science 20:3 (August 2005)

The fiftieth birthday of Darrell Huff's famous "How to Lie with
Statistics" provided the occasion for these sequels.  The title of Huff’s
book is both a blessing and a curse.  To its credit, such a come-on
attracted a huge readership, helping to make this the best selling
statistics book of all time.  Unfortunately, it suggests a wrong-headed
view of statistics and unfairly imputes malice as cause for the numerous
errors that do infect the use of data.  The present collection of articles
does an excellent job of showing the manifold ways things can go wrong or
right in the collection, presentation, use, and implications of data.

Steve: Against the Gods is indeed a good choice.  Also worth a look in
that general vicinity are the following two, picked almost at random off
my shelf of such:

Brian S. Everitt: "Chance Rules" 1999 Springer (Copernicus imprint)

H> W> Lewis: "Why Flip a Coin" 1997 Wiley
For this latter see Chance News 6.11, part 2 of 3 parts for a review.

Another, that one of my business school students really liked, is "Fooled by
Randomness:  The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets" by Nassim
Nicholas Taleb.  About probability and the financial markets.

Freakonomics has at least one really bad analysis in it, but maybe that's ok.
There are a couple of other options...

Statistics and Public Policy
by Fairley and Mosteller
(a collection of articles, like SAGTU)

Summing Up
by Pillemer and Light (a reviewing literature/meta-analysis focus)

Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk.

Since you mention Stephen Jay Gould, you might suggest his "Full House",
especially Parts 2 & 3 as a wonderfully clear discussion of variation in
many fields.

It's a big old, but Robert Behn & Vaupel's "Quick Analysis for Busy
Decision Makers" is a very readable treatment of ideas in decision making
under risk and uncertainty in a public policy setting.

Freakonomics is an excellent choice as you note.

I'm not sure if this is relevant, but Edward Tufte has a book titled
"data Analysis for Politics and Policy".

Data Analysis for Politics and Policy, Edward Tufte, Prentice Hall,
1974.  Very short, very good, very expensive.  A reader who has not
taken a statistics course will have to skip some technical sections
but this deals with meaty applications and meaty statistics.
Recommended for every statistics teacher.

-- -------------------------------------------------------- Steve C. Wang Assistant Professor of Statistics Swarthmore College