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The Zen of Modeling

The Zen of Modeling

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Published by terrabyte
Models and statistics are closely intertwined. Statistical analyses begin and end with models. Models serve as both inputs and outputs of statistical analyses. You can’t do without them, so you might as well understand what they are.
Models and statistics are closely intertwined. Statistical analyses begin and end with models. Models serve as both inputs and outputs of statistical analyses. You can’t do without them, so you might as well understand what they are.

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Published by: terrabyte on Aug 08, 2010
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02/01/2012

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T
HE
Z
EN OF
M
ODELING
 
What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word
model
? The plastic model airplanesyou used to build? A fashion model? The model of the car you drive? The person who is your
role model? But what do any of those things have to do with data analysis? Read on; you’re
about to find that statistical analyses begin and end with models.
By Any Other Name
What do a Ford Focus, a plastic airplane, and Tyra Banks have in common? They are all calledmodels. They are all representations of something, usually an ideal or a standard.Models can be true representations, approximate (or at least as good as practicable), orsimplified, even cartoonish compared to what they represent. They can be about the same size,bigger, or most typically, smaller, whatever makes them easiest to handle. They usually representphysical objects but can also represent a variety of phenomena, including conditions such asweather patterns, behaviors such as customer satisfaction, and processes such as widgetmanufacturing. The models themselves do not have to be physical objects either. They can bewritten, drawn, or consist of mathematical equations or computer programming. In fact, usingequations and computer code can be much more flexible and less expensive than building aphysical model.Customarily, models are used either to:
 
Display
what they represent (e.g., modelairplanes) or are associated with (e.g., fashions)
 
Substitute
for incomplete real world data,such as using the Normal distribution as asurrogate for a sample distribution.
 
Manipulate
their components to learnmore about the things they represent (e.g.,scientific models for planetary motion).Whether you know it or not, you deal with modelsevery day. Your weather forecast comes from a meteorological model, maybe several.Mannequins are used to display how fashions may look on you. Blueprints are drawn models of objects or structures to be built. Examples are plentiful.
This is supposed to be a model of ME!
 
 
 Examples of Physical Models
Relative Size of ModelLarger than Actual Same as Actual Smaller than Actual
   A  c  c  u  r  a  c  y  o   f   R  e  p  r  e  s  e  n   t  a   t   i  o  n
TrueOversized exhibitionmodels for industrialtrade showsCadavers used inmedical schoolsAnt FarmsApproximateAnatomical modelsused in colleges andmedical schoolsNASA flight simulatorsArmy Corps of Engineers models of waterwaysSimplifiedMolecular models usedin educationResusiAnnie (dummies)used for CPRinstructionArchitectural models
Humans, in particular, are modeled all the time because of our complexity. Children play withdolls as models of playmates. Mannequins are simplified models of fashion models, who in turn,
are models of people who might wear a fashion designer’s wares. Posing models provide
reference points for artists. Crash test dummies reveal how the human body might react in anautomobile accident. Medical researchers use laboratory animals in place of humans for basicresearch. Medical schools use donated cadavers as models, very good ones as it turns out, of thehuman anatomy. So, there should be nothing unfamiliar or intimidating about models.Whether it is a physical scale-model of a hydroelectric dam or a mathematical model of weatherpatterns, a model is nothing more than a tool used to stimulate the imagination by simulating anobject or phenomenon. The model airplane takes its young pilot looping through the blue skies of asummer day. Globes teach geography and orreries teach planetary motion. The mannequin showsthe bride-to-
 be how beautiful she’ll look in the gown at her wedding. The concept car unveiled
today gives consumers an idea of what they may be driving in a few years. The National HurricaneCenter uses over a dozen mathematical models to forecast the intensities and paths of tropicalstorms and to help understand the complex dynamics of hurricanes.It should come as no surprise, then, that scientists, engineers, and mathematicians use models,especially virtual models, all the time. It may be surprising, though, that virtual models are alsoused extensively in business, economics, politics, and many other fields. Nevertheless, there is amystique associated with modeling, especially the mathematical variety. Some believe that modelsare infallible and unchanging. Some believe that models are impossibly complex and necessarilyunfathomable. Some believe that models are sophisticated delusions for obfuscating real data. Inreality, none of these opinions is correct, at least entirely.
A Medley of Numbers
Mathematical models can be either theoretical (i.e., derived mathematically from scientificprinciples) or empirical
 
(i.e., based on experimental observations). For example, celestialmovements and radioactive decay are phenomena that can be evaluated using theory-basedmodels. To calibrate a theoretical model, the form of the model (i.e., the equation) is fixed and theinputs are adjusted so that the calculated results adequately represent actual observations.
 
Empirical models differ from theoretical models in that the model is not necessarily fixed for allinstances of its use. Rather, empirical models are developed for specific situations from measureddata. Model formulation and calibration are simultaneous. However, the selection of the form of the equation and the inputs used in an empirical model are usually based on related theories.Models developed using statistical techniques are examples of empirical models.Empirical models can also be deterministic, stochastic, or sometimes a hybrid of the two.Deterministic empirical models presume that a specific mathematical relationship exists betweentwo or more measurable phenomena (as do theoretical models) that will allow the phenomena to bemodeled without uncertainty under a given set of conditions (i.e., the model's inputs andassumptions). Biological growth models are examples of deterministic empirical models.Both theoretical models and deterministic empirical models provide solutions that presume that
there is no uncertainty. These solutions are termed “exact” (which does not necessarily imply“correct”). Conversely,
stochastic empirical models presume that changes in a phenomenon have arandom component. The random component allows stochastic empirical models to providesolutions that incorporate uncertainty into the analysis.Statistical models are examples of stochastic empirical models in which the model equation isgenerated by quantifying and minimizing errors (i.e., uncertainty). Statistical models place greatemphasis on examining and quantifying uncertainty, whereas theoretical models generally do not.
OK, that’s way more than you need to know. Let me s
implify. Mathematical models are based ontheories or observations or both. They can produce a single (exact) answer for a set of inputs byassuming there is no variability or a range of (inexact) answers by incorporating the variability intothe model.For example, distribution models are equations that produce exact solutions for the equation curve.The model describes what your data frequency would look like if your sampling were a perfectrepresentation of the population. So if your data follow a particular distribution model, you can usethe model instead of your data to estimate the probability of a data value occurring. This is thebasis of parametric statistics; you evaluate your data as if they came from a population describedby the model. (In contrast, nonparametric statistics use your data instead of an exact model toestimate the probability of a data value occurring.)
It’s like building a sand castle.
A distributionmodel is like a bucket you can fill with sand (data) to create the castle (the result) with greatefficiency. Without the model serving as a substitute, it takes more effort (data) to completelyshape the castle.Statistical analyses involving descriptive statistics and testing rely on exact mathematical modelslike the Normal distribution to represent data frequencies and error rates. Just as importantly,though, statistical techniques are used to build models from data. Such statistical models include anerror term to incorporate the effects of variation, and thus, are inexact because they produce asolution that is a range of possible values. Statistical analyses involving detecting differences,prediction, or exploration involve using statistics to estimate the mathematical coefficients, theparameters, of a model.So, models and statistics are closely intertwined. Statistical analyses begin and end with models.M
odels serve as both inputs and outputs of statistical analyses. You can’t do without them, so you
might as well understand what they are.
Join the
Stats With Cats
group on Facebook.
 

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