In Xanadu did Kubla Khan …

Nature and Nature’s laws lay hid in night

God said: “Let Newton be!” and all was light.

 Alexander Pope

I felt as though I were on a wingèd chariot, fingers flying across the keyboard writing to enlighten the medical masses like the goddess Eos, dawn, accompanying her brother Helios brightening the cloaked night sky. Then I came to methodology. Eos’ rosy fingers were left behind as Helios climbed in the cerulean sky and eventually sank into his golden cup in the west leaving behind Nyx, the night,  who drew a dark veil of mist summoned from the underworld over my eyes, blotting out the light. Neither Athena the goddess of wisdom nor Zeus, Olympians of wisdom and order, could draw me out of the miasma. Only I could save myself.

Mathematics. Statistics. Numbers. Symbols. Give me a foreign language to learn before you ask me when that sideways caret is indicating “less than” or “greater than.” I am beginning to think I have a math dysgraphia. Is this possible? I know in theory that the greater-less than sign is an alligator that chomps the smaller number, but what if there is only one number? For instance, consider the following sentence from one of my sources: “The interaction term was not significant (P >0.084) but was included in the model.”  The arrow looks to me as if it pointing up a number line so it would be read, “P is greater than 0.084.” But yet, the P is about to be chomped by the alligator, so I consider that P is smaller. Then doubt creeps in.  After all the chomp side is wider, so therefore it ought to be the “greater than” side.  Clearly, faulty reasoning, but meta-analysis of my thinking process doesn’t enlighten anymore.

To solve my processing disorder, I went to Amazon.com. As I typed in “statistics,” a list of option popped up below the search window. The first was “statistics for dummies.” I know that search engine optimization (SEO) is a science that now has its own appropriately-online journal (Search Engine Journal), but I’m starting to worry that Google Chrome can actually sense what I am writing here on Microsoft Word, sort of like the Fed looking directly into my wallet, rather than just into my bank account. (As if they’d find anything there …) Indeed, Andy Greenberg wrote for Forbes online that “Google … has the impact that Alan Greenspan once had on the financial markets.” Back to self-improvement, however, Amazon’s top five books for the search “statistics easy” are:

  1. Statistics The Easy Way (Barron’s E-Z)
  2. Statistics for Six Sigma Made Easy — Is “six sigma” a real thing or just a tongue twister?
  3. Medical Statistics Made Easy
  4. T
  5. he Complete Idiot’s Guide to Statistics
  6. Statistics in Plain English

 

            Under each title on Amazon, in the “Customer Who Bought This Item Also Bought …” was this common title: The Cartoon Guide to Statistics. Now that’s what I am talking about! The description reads, “If you have ever looked for P-values by shopping at P mart, tried to watch the Bernoulli Trails on “People’s Court,” or think that the standard deviation is a criminal offense in six states, then you need The Cartoon Guide to Statistics to put you on the road to statistical literacy.” At least it covers P values because clearly, given the model in the second paragraph, I need to know what it is. After yet another Google search, I found a couple scanned pages of said cartoon guide. While it appears that it could provide an overview, some insights, and humor, I do need to continue this quest to find my  Greek hero of statistics.

            Then I had an a moment of clarity. When I was taking some science prerequisites for an RN program, for which I am still on a long waiting list, I struggled with some of the math-based units. Chemistry was particularly difficult, and although doctor friends assured me that they, too, struggled, their admissions did little to assuage my anxiety. One day in chemistry lab while discussing the merits of burning VW magnesium-block engines in the desert wilderness, a lab partner suggested that I check out a series of video tutorials by a brilliant man named Sal Khan. “Khan Academy,” she said. “Conn Academy? Like UCONN?” I shook my head thinking of my alma mater. “No, ‘Khan.’ Like ‘The Wrath of Khan.” I doubtfully searched YouTube by “mole and khan” because the concept of a mole, as a unit of measure, was blinding me—like a … uh … mole. (I know. I know.) A boring black screen and colored scribbles appeared on the screen. It reminded me of those elementary black waxy drawing projects where you scratch off the surface to reveal rainbow colors underneath, but Sal Khan’s melodious deep British voice had me entranced at “Avogadro’s Number.” And I learned. The man’s ability to make something complicated seem simple should not be understated.

            Today I did a search on Khan Academy for P value. I watched an 11:33 second tutorial, and as a result, I understand that a P value has to do with probability. As I gather, in statistical hypothesis testing, the number represents the likelihood that a test statistic will be at least as extreme as the original one observed, given the null hypothesis—a default position. If the resulting mean is more extreme than generally one can reject the null hypothesis and validate the new hypothesis. Granted, I could not do the calculations, yet, but it is a start. Khan Academy sports about 80 videos in statistics ranging from Mean, Median, and Mode to ANOVA2—Calculating SSW and SSB. (HUH?)

            While the long-term solution is probably to take a statistics class, I think Khan and some cartoons may be able to shed some light on those darkest hours before dawn.

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