Always in the Middle of Things

There’s an interesting game called Katamari Damacy where you, the Prince, are charged to make katamari, which is Japanese for “a jumble”, “mass”, or “cluster”. You roll small things which snowball into larger ones and thus into huge katamari and you present them, under a deadline, to The King of All Cosmos, who then makes it into a new star.

That’s if you make the deadline. The King is quite cross with you if you don’t make it. One of those little speeches goes (from memory).

“There you are, always in the middle of things, never quite finishing anything!!!

Blogs are like being in the middle of things. So rarely do they start from a proper beginning, with a proper introduction. At least, perhaps the good ones do. People like to talk about themselves, which is often Not Very Interesting. I’d rather talk about other things and inform the reader prior to when they need information about how I view things or operate. Here and there I’ll leave clues perhaps to who I am, but its really not that important.

So this first post is a review of the book Introduction into Biostatistics by Marcello Pagano and Kimberlee Gauvreau. This is the second edition. I suppose I should inform you[1] that I have a habit of studying textbooks and courses. There is an excellent resource for courses called EdX, with top level university courses. Introduction to Biostatistics (henceforth abbreviated to ItB) is the textbook for the

    PH207x Health in Numbers: Quantitative Methods in Clinical & Public Health Research

course, which is the first course of the archives.

I prefer to go through the entire textbook and do all of the problems before taking a course. Hermione would be proud. I tried reading the textbook and doing all of the problems with the course, but some instructors jump around the textbook a bit, which is fine for them but distracting for me.

I do not have a medical or statistics background. I do have a Baccalaureates in Electrical Engineering. So my mathematics background is multivariable calculus, ordinary differential equations, probability, discrete math (which I enjoyed the most), and some linear algebra. Probability is taught to EE’s as a component to separating noise in radio communications, but we never quite got to that part in the course, which makes me cross. We also never got around to using ODEs in electronics as well. *grumble emoji would go here*

Prior to reading this textbook, I knew what means, medians, and modes were, but I couldn’t rightfully tell you what a p value was. I am absolutely delighted by this textbook, which serves as an introduction to a large set of new and fascinating tools. The book is composed of 22 chapters, each ranging from 20 to 40 pages long, and ends with 10 to 20 questions. I never had a problem understanding the material, and only towards the end, on the topic of linear regression, is when the text started to gloss a bit over information, which is fine for an introductory textbook. Linear regression is also where I started leaning on software packages for analysis, since performing linear regression on a data set of 100 entries seemed unnecessarily tedious. For most of the book I was fine using online web pages for making graphs and lengthy calculations, though I tried to do some things by hand for understanding’s sake.

Introduction into Biostatistics uses real information and has many references and sources, which is a bonus. The real data made me feel like I was doing actual work and not playing with made up numbers. I did not have access to an answer key (or even half a key as most textbooks provide), but at no point did I feel lost. I might have an unresolved error here or there, but the nature of the problems was that I felt I could always answer them with the information given in the chapter. The book expects you to use either Minitab or Stata with it and does not teach you how to use these packages, so if you’re not computer savvy, you may have some confusion.

Overall I am very happy with what I learned and the material wasn’t difficult at all. I consider statistics to be a very welcome addition to my toolbox of problem solving. I look forward to taking the EdX course, which combines biostatistics with epidemiology and Pagano is one of the instructors of the course.

[1] I’m thinking of a name for the reader, Gentle Reader is taken by Miss Manners. Cecil Adams of The Straight Dope used the Teeming Millions to refer to his readership. I’ll think about an original name, but let’s keep the ball rolling. Suggestions are welcome.

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