Q & A--THE PERFECT STATISTICS GIFT?

Michael R. Frey
Bucknell University

Newsletter for the Section on Statistical Education
Volume 2, Number 1 (Winter 1996)


We invite contributions to future Q & A articles. If you have a question about teaching statistics, send it to us and we can solicit answers. If you have both a question and answers, write a short article and send it to us. Send correspondence to Tom Moore. (Eds.)
In September of this year a man asked me to suggest a gift suitable for his son who was enthusiastically studying statistics at college. I made a few suggestions but was satisfied with none of them. I teach statistics at Bucknell University, a small school in central Pennsylvania, and have few colleagues with whom to share these sorts of questions. So I turned to the internet and sent a message to a distribution list of about fifty statisticians, each like myself, professionally isolated. This list, maintained by Jeff Witmer at Oberlin College, can be reached at "isostat@oberlin.edu." Here is the message I sent to the group:

Hello fellow isolated statisticians! I was asked this morning by a student's father to recommend a statistics/ probability book to be given as a gift to his son. The son is a third-year student at William and Mary, loves statistics (who doesn't?!), and plans to go on to graduate study in statistics. The father asked me to suggest a book that I find indispensable and that his son would appreciate. OK everyone, help me out. I thought to suggest The Handbook of Small Data Sets by Hand et al. or maybe Counterexamples in Probability. Of course, a gift ASA membership might also work. Does anybody have other suggestions? Thanks, Mike Frey.

This question evidently sparked some interest because of the number and rapidity of the responses. Included were several requests that I assemble the results and share them back with the group. After brief editing this is what I sent back to the group:

Hello isolated statisticians! I recently asked for suggestions for a book gift that might be appreciated by an undergraduate student of statistics. Here's an edited, cut-and-paste summary of your recommendations. Thanks to everyone - Mike Frey, Bucknell University.

  1. Statistics for Experimenters by Box, Hunter & Hunter or The History of Statistics by Stigler. These books were the most often recommended.


  2. Edward Tufte's two books on graphics make nice gifts, since they are so artistically put together--one is The Visual Display of Quantitative Information and the other is Envisioning Information. These books are truly works of art and contain information that beginning statisticians should be required to learn. Moreover, they are not books that a student is likely to buy for a course. These two books received several recommendations.


  3. A useful reference set is the Johnson and Kotz series on distributions--four volumes. A couple of them are available in new editions; these would be the ones to purchase if one doesn't want to lay out for all four. Two recommendations for this set.


  4. ASA gift membership including subscriptions to The American Statistician , Stats, and Chance.


  5. Statistics: A Guide to the Unknown, by Tanur et. al. --a largely nontechnical collection of applications of prob & stats to a wide variety of areas (predicting the chance of an earthquake in the next few years, estimating whale population sizes, forecasting elections, looking at the bunt strategy in baseball). Put out by Wadsworth Brooks/Cole.


  6. Fisher's Statistical Methods, Experimental Design and Scientific Inference or Student (a biography of Gossett), both published by Oxford University Press. R.A. Fisher: The Life of a Scientist would be good too. Historical/biographical materials regarding statisticians are hard to come by and make valued gifts.


  7. Thisted, The Elements of Statistical Computing; Kendall et. al., The Advanced Theory of Statistics; De Finetti, Theory of Probability; Kotz and Johnson, Breakthroughs in Statistics; Mosteller and Wallace, Applied Bayesian and Classical Inference: The Case of the Federalist Papers; Tanner, Tools for Statistical Inference; and Feller, An Introduction to Probability Theory and Its Applications.


  8. Problem Solving: A Statistician's Guide by C. Chatfield or Counting for Something: Statistical Principles and Personalities, by W.S. Peters (Springer-Verlag).


  9. Don't underestimate C.R. Rao's Linear Statistical Inference and Its Applications or a matrix-theory- useful-for-statistics book like Graybill's or Searle's. Everybody takes a linear models course but nobody has had all the linear algebra that graduate school assumes they've had.


  10. Two recent books offer numerous datasets to supplement an introductory statistics course. The books differ in level and the extent to which sample analyses for the data are supplied. One is A Casebook for a First Course in Statistics and Data Analysis by Chatterjee, Handcock and Simonoff (Wiley, 1995). The other is A Handbook of Small Data Sets by Hand et. al. (Routledge, 1994). Robert W. Hayden of Plymouth State College has written a joint review of these books which will soon appear in The American Statistician.


  11. Of course, a dream gift suitable for the newly-minted stats Ph.D. is the multi-volume Statistical Encyclopedia. But it is oh-so-expensive!

The father, when I gave him this list, was amazed and delighted. He's decided to give his son a student ASA membership. Oh, and now he wants me to suggest a gift for his wife ...

Michael Frey
Department of Mathematics
Bucknell University
Lewisburg, PA 17837
Phone: (717)524-1598
FAX: (717)524-3760
mfrey@bucknell.edu


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