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Weapons of Math Production

Weapons of Math Production

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Published by terrabyte
The statistical software market changes rapidly. The big packages keep getting bigger, spawning optional modules from procedures that used to be part of the basic package. At the same time, new statistical software appears, usually for specialized applications. Spreadsheet software is also becoming more sophisticated. Introductory statistics classes are now taught with spreadsheet software; even calculators are a thing of the past. So do some research and get the software that’s best for your situation.
The statistical software market changes rapidly. The big packages keep getting bigger, spawning optional modules from procedures that used to be part of the basic package. At the same time, new statistical software appears, usually for specialized applications. Spreadsheet software is also becoming more sophisticated. Introductory statistics classes are now taught with spreadsheet software; even calculators are a thing of the past. So do some research and get the software that’s best for your situation.

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Published by: terrabyte on Aug 07, 2010
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W
EAPONS OF
M
ATH
P
RODUCTION
 
In theory, if you have the free time, you can calculate any statistic you might need using nothing
more than a pencil and paper. After all, it’s just matrix mathem
atics. With a lot of data or acomplicated procedure, though, you might need a
lot 
 
of free time. A generation ago, that’s howmost statistics were calculated. Most people didn’t have computers, or calculators for that matter.Slide rules … maybe. Now, ther 
e is an abundance of hardware and software to ease the tedium.
Having a statistician’s version of Norm Abram’s workshop to use actually makes analyzing data
a
lot 
of fun.
Whether you’re planning a career in statistics or  just looking to analyze your current dataset, you’re
going to need software to do the calculations. Yes,there are some people who still calculatedescriptive statistics manually, but this practice is
so prone to errors that it’s only applied to very
small datasets. And yes, there are some peoplewho develop their own statistical routines, usuallywith
R
, a programming language for statisticsavailable for free under a General Public License,or matrix manipulation software like matlab,
maple and mathematica. Unless you’re a
mathematical statistician developing a new
statistical technique, though, you won’t need totake this approach if you don’t want to. There’s plenty of software avail
able. All you need to
know is the kind of statistical analyses you’re likely to use and your price range.
 
Software for General Statistics
With a few exceptions, almost all of the statistical software you’ll
find is geared to the mostcommon types of statistical analysis, including descriptive statistics, hypothesis testing,correlation and regression, and analysis of variance. Software used for statistical analysis can begrouped into five categories:
Web-based Calculators
 — 
Web sites that perform simple statistical calculations can befound at statpages.org/. This is the low end of cost, but also usability. You usually have to
enter your data and edit it manually, so it’s not really suitable for production work 
.
Spreadsheets
 — 
You probably already have a copy of Microsoft Excel or some other
spreadsheet software on your computer. If you are a beginner at data analysis, you’ll find
that you can accomplish most of what you want to do using spreadsheet software.Advanced data analysis may be more of an issue, though. Some statisticians adviseagainst using spreadsheet software, particularly Excel, citing three reasons. First,
 Excel
doesn’t do some calculations and graphs that statistical packages do
. Well, of course it
doesn’t. It’s a spreadsheet program that sells for less than $200 (by itself, not part of 
Office) compared to statistical packages that cost ten times as much. Big deal. Second,Be sure you have the resources you need toanalyze your data.
 
 
 Excel’s calculated probabilities are incorrect 
, reportedly in the third decimal place. OK,but if you would base a decision solely on whether a probability is 0.051 instead of 0.049,
you really don’t understand the nature of statistical testing (more on this in another blog).
 And third,
 Excel’s random number generators are not of 
research quality
. Yup, so if 
you’re planning to do Monte Carlo simulations with Excel … well, don’t (not necessarily
because your answer will be wrong as much as because some people will think it iswrong).
Basic Statistical Software
 — 
This category includes
s
oftware that is used mainly for lesssophisticated types of statistical analysis. Most can be purchased for less than about $500.Key examples include StatsDirect, In Stat, Analyze It, and Assistat.
Intermediate Statistical Software
 — 
This category includes
s
oftware that can be used formany types of statistical analysis except some of the more sophisticated techniques likemultivariate analysis. Most but not all are a single module and cost less than about$1,000. Examples include NCSS, Statistix, Costat, Origin, Prostat, Soritec, MVSP, andSimstat.
Major Statistical Packages
 — 
This category includes
s
oftware that can be used for avariety of purposes. Most have a base module and a variety of optional add-on modules.They are usually purchased through annual licenses specifying a number of users, andcost more than about $1,000 (in some cases,
way
over). Some of the major packages likeSAS and SPSS have been around since the mainframe days of the 1960s. Others likeStatistica are products of the 1980s development of personal computers. Other examplesinclude S-Plus, Stata, Systat, Minitab, and Statgraphics.Data analysis programs typically have spreadsheet screens for data because statisticalcalculations use matrices, and after all, a spreadsheet is really just a matrix. They also haveutilities for both data management and graphing, which are essential for any type of dataanalysis. Most all statistical software has graphical user interfaces (GUIs) and many also allowyou to write your own code for specialized applications. Almost all have downloadable demos,usually fully functional (at least for basic statistics) for 30 days.To conduct an analysis with statistical software, you enter or upload your data, scrub it (a wholeother discussion), then pick from th
e program’s menus the graphing or analysis procedure you
want to run. Submenus will pop up with all the specifications and options for the procedure. So,
it’s quite easy to do a lot of statistical analyses with just a few mouse clicks but you really have
to understand what all those specifications and options are about.All of the software packages have their fans, especially the major packages. SPSS was created inthe 1960s by graduates of Stanford who continued development at the University of Chicago. It
used to be called Statistical Package for the Social Sciences, which is why it’s still very popular 
in the social sciences. SPSS was bought by IBM in 2009. SAS, formerly called the StatisticalAnalysis System, was developed in the early 1970s by professors at North Carolina StateUniversity. S-Plus started out as a programming language developed by Bell Laboratories in the1980s. Minitab was created by professors at the Pennsylvania University in the 1970s fromstatistical spreadsheet software developed at the National Institute of Standards and Technology
(NIST). It’s now focusing on Six Sigma statistics procedures for managing quality.
 
 
There is no real best statistical software. They’re all pretty good, dollar 
-for-dollar. A lot of what
determines a user’s
preference is what software is (was) available at their college or the placethey work. For example, if you go (went) to Penn State, you probably think Minitab is the best. If 
you work at a pharmaceutical company, you probably use SAS because that’s what
the entirepharmaceutical industry uses. Social scientists like to use SPSS. If you like programming your
own procedures you’re probably a proponent of the
R
programming language for statistics.
Assuming you don’t have access to software through your schoo
l or work, you can evaluate yoursoftware needs by answering three questions:How sophisticated are the statistical techniques you need to use?How often would you likely need to use the software?How much do you have to spend for the software?If you are planning on doing only one analysis, see if you can use what you have. You may beable to do all your calculations in a spreadsheet program or use free software or web-basedsoftware. If you are going to do full-
time statistical consulting and you can’t af 
ford a license fora major package, bite the bullet and learn
R
. Another option would be to buy a basic or an
intermediate package and move up as you can afford to. If you’re only going to be an occasional
user, any of the statistical packages will be better than using a spreadsheet (except perhaps fordataset scrubbing), so purchase whatever you can afford.
If you aren’t acquainted with statistical software, conduct a web search or start at
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_statistical_packages.Explore the web sites you find to be sure thatthe software has the statistical procedures you think you will be using. Almost all of the siteshave
free downloads, such as brochures, white papers and demonstration software. Don’tdownload the demo software until you’re ready to make a decision. Most demos are good for only 30 days after which the software won’t work even if you download a new copy.
 
Software for Specialized Applications
There are a few kinds of analysis you might run into that will require specialized software. Forexample, have you ever seen an icon plot using sparklines or Chernoff faces? How about aternary diagram or a piper plot? Some day you may have to produce one of these specializedgraphics. Software you could look into would include: Sigmaplot, Origin, AquaChem,GraphPad, EasyPlot, Delta Graph, and Grapher.If you ever have to do time-series analysis, you could start with some of the high-end statisticalpackages. Or, you could look into specialized software including Autobox, Eviews, ForecastX,
and RATS. If you have to produce maps, find a GIS expert to help you. If you’re committed todoing it yourself, try Surfer. If you’re not into meteorology or geology, you probably don’t run
into orientation data very often, but if you ever do, get Oriana. For critical-path scheduling, tryMicrosoft Project or P5, an update to Primavera Project Planner, now a product of Oracle.
There’s al
so software for resampling statistics, control charts, ANOVA, neural networks,nonparametric statistics, power analysis, Bayesian statistics, data mining and many otherspecialties.

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