Investigating Statistical Concepts, Applications, and Methods



Preface to the Preliminary Edition


This preliminary edition is intended for use by instructors interested in class-testing and providing feedback on these materials.  As we continue the revision process, we will place supplementary materials on the web.  These include errata, practice problem solutions, additional homework problems, additional solved examples for reference, sample exams, replacement activities, and a teacher’s guide.  These will be available for downloading from our web site as we complete them.


To the Student


Statistics is a mathematical science.


While this is a very short sentence, perhaps a self-evident one, and certainly one of the shortest that you will find in this book, we want to draw your attention to several things about it:


·        We use the singular “is” and not the plural “are.”  It is certainly grammatically correct and more common usage to say “statistics are...”, but that use of the term refers to statistics as numerical values.  In this sentence we mean statistics as a field of study, one that has its own concepts and techniques, and one that can be exciting to study and practice.

·        We use “mathematical” as an adjective.  Statistics certainly makes use of much mathematics, but it is a separate discipline and not a branch of mathematics.  Many, perhaps most, of the concepts and methods in statistics are mathematical in nature, but there are also many that do not involve mathematics.  You will see an example of this early in the book as you study the difference between observational studies and controlled experiments.  You will find that even in cases where the mathematical aspects of two situations may be identical, the scope of one’s conclusions depends crucially on how the data were collected, a statistical rather than a mathematical consideration.

·        We use the noun “science.”  Statistics is the science of gaining insight from data.  Data are (notice the plural here) pieces of information (often but not always numerical) gathered on people or objects or processes. The science of statistics involves all aspects of inquiry about data. Well-designed studies begin with a research question or hypothesis, devise a plan for collecting data to address that issue, proceed to gather the data and analyze them, and then often make inferences about how the findings generalize beyond the particular group being studied.  Statistics concerns itself with all phases of this process and therefore encompasses the scientific method.


In these materials, our goal is to introduce you to this practice of statistics, to help you think about the applications of statistics and to study the mathematical underpinnings of the statistical methods.  While you will only scratch the surface of the statistical methods used in practice, you will learn fundamental concepts (such as variability, randomness, confidence, and significance) that are an integral part of many statistical analyses.  A distinct emphasis will be the focus on how the data are collected and how this determines the scope of conclusions that you can draw from the data. 


One of the first features you will notice about these materials is that you will play the active role of investigator.  You will read about an actual study and consider the research question, and then we will lead you to discover and apply the appropriate tools for carrying out the analysis.  Almost all of the investigations in this book are based on actual scientific studies.  At the end of each investigation is a “study conclusion” that allows you to confirm your analysis as well as to see examples of how to properly word conclusions to your studies, for the effective communication of statistical results is as important as the analysis.  There are also numerous “explorations” where the primary goal is for you to delve deeper into a particular method or statistical concept.   A primary reason for the investigative nature of these materials is that we strongly believe that you will better understand and retain the concepts if you build your own knowledge and are engaged in the context.  We don’t leave you without support and reference materials: be sure to read the expository passages, especially those appearing in boxes, and the section and chapter summaries.  You may find this approach rather frustrating at first, but we also hope you will appreciate developing problem solving skills that will increase in utility as you progress through this and other courses. 


We will ask you to use the computer extensively, both to analyze genuine data and also to investigate statistical concepts.  Modern data exploration and analysis make heavy use of the computer.  We have chosen the statistical package Minitab as the primary tool for analyzing data.  Minitab is increasingly used in industry, but our choice mostly centers on its ease of use.  After using Minitab for this course, you will have sufficient background to use most standard statistical packages. 


This book will also make heavy use of simulation to help you focus on the central question behind many statistical procedures: “How often would this happen in the long run?”  Often, the simulation results will direct us to a mathematical model that we can then use as a short-cut; at other times we will only be able to use simulation to obtain an approximation to the answer we are interested in finding.  You will make frequent use of several technological tools, namely Minitab, Excel, and Java applets, to carry out these simulations and explorations.  We have included instructions for how to use these tools throughout the text so that you may proceed through the investigations with minimal computer and programming background.  Still, it will be important that you remember and build on the computing skills that you will develop as the course progresses.  All data files and Java applets can be accessed from 


We have also included a series of “practice problems” throughout the book.  We envision these exercises as short, initial reviews of the terminology and concepts presented in the preceding investigations.  Strategies for learning statistics often mirror those of learning a foreign language – you need to continually practice and refine your use of the terminology and to continually check that your meaning is understood.  We hope that you will use these practice problems as a way of quickly assessing your knowledge.  Some of the practice problems are in the nature of “further explorations,” and a few introduce new ideas or techniques based on what you just learned.  Not all of the practice problems have simple correct answers but can also be used to spur debate and discussion in your class.  Your instructor will inform you about obtaining access to the solutions to these practice problems.


Most of all, we hope you will find fun and engaging examples.  Statistics is a vitally important subject, and also fun to study and practice, largely because it brings you into contact with all kinds of interesting questions.  You will analyze data from medical studies, legal cases, psychology experiments, sociological studies, and many other contexts.  To paraphrase the late statistician John Tukey, “the best thing about statistics is that it allows you to play in everyone else’s backyard.”  You never know what you might learn in a statistics class!





To the Instructor



The statistics education reform movement has revolutionized the teaching of introductory statistics.  Key features of this movement include the use of data, activities, and technology to help students understand fundamental concepts and the nature of statistical thinking.  Many innovative and effective materials have been developed to support this shift in teaching, and many instructors have changed their approach to teaching introductory statistics.  So, where does this book fit in?  What problem does it address?


The vast majority of these statistics education reform efforts have been aimed at “Stat 101,” the algebra-based service course.  As a result, the movement has largely ignored mathematically inclined students, the very students who might be attracted into the field of statistics and into the teaching of statistics.  Our goal in this book is to support an introductory course at the post-calculus level around the best features of statistics education reform: data, activities, concepts, and technology. 


Mathematically inclined students have typically had to choose between taking “Stat 101” or taking a course in probability and mathematical statistics.  The first option neither challenges them mathematically nor takes advantage of their mathematical abilities.  The second option often devotes an entire course to probability before turning to statistics, which could delay capturing the interest of students who would find data analysis appealing.  We offer this book as an alternative that we hope provides a balanced introduction to the discipline of statistics, emphasizing issues of data collection and data analysis as well as statistical inference.


While we believe that this type of introduction to statistics is appropriate for many students, we want to draw particular attention to two student audiences: potential statisticians and teachers.  Mathematically inclined students who take “Stat 101” may not recognize the mathematical richness of the material, and those who begin with a mathematical statistics course may not appreciate the wide applicability of statistics.  We hope that this book reveals the great appeal of statistics by asking students to investigate both the applicability of statistics and also some of its mathematical underpinnings.  We also hope to entice students to study statistics further.  This book can lay the foundation for several types of follow-up courses, such as a course in regression analysis, design of experiments, mathematical statistics, or probability models.


Prospective teachers of statistics are also an important audience, all the more so due to the growth of the Advanced Placement (AP) program in Statistics and the emphasis on data analysis throughout the K-12 program in the NCTM Standards.  Not only is the content of this book in line with the AP course and the NCTM Standards, but so too is the pedagogical approach that emphasizes students’ active construction of their knowledge and the use of technology for developing conceptual understanding.  We hope that both the content and pedagogy presented here will prepare future teachers to implement similar approaches in their own teaching.



Some of the principles that have guided the development of these materials are:


·        Motivate with real studies and genuine data.

Almost all of the investigations in this book center on real studies and genuine data.  The contexts come from a variety of scientific disciplines, including some historically important studies.  With all of these studies we provide ample background information without overwhelming students or expecting them to know much about the field of application.

We also take some examples from popular media, aiming to appeal to diverse student interests.  Some investigations ask for data to be collected from students themselves. 


·        Emphasize connections among study design, inference technique, and scope of conclusion.

Issues of study design come up early and recur throughout the book.  From the opening chapter we emphasize the distinction between observational studies and controlled experiments, stressing the different types of conclusions that can be drawn from each.  We also highlight the importance of randomness and its crucial role in drawing inferences, paying attention to the difference between randomization of subjects to treatments and random sampling of objects from a population.  The connection between study design and inference technique depends heavily on the concept of a sampling/randomization distribution, which we also emphasize throughout.


·        Conduct simulations often.

We make frequent use of simulations, both as a problem-solving tool and as a pedagogical device.  (One challenge with this approach is helping students to recognize the difference between these two uses.)  These simulations address the fundamental question underlying many statistical inference procedures: “How often would this happen in the long run?”  We often start with tactile simulations before proceeding to technological ones, so that students can better understand the random process being simulated.  Technology-based simulations often involve using a Java applet, but we also ask students to write their own small-scale macros in Minitab to conduct simulations.  Developing this skill can help students to apply simulation as a general problem-solving tool to other situations.


·        Use variety of computation tools.

We expect that students will have frequent access to computer software as they work through this book.  We ask students to use technology both to analyze data and to explore statistical concepts.  Our guiding philosophy is to choose the appropriate software tool for the task at hand.  When the task is to analyze data, the appropriate tool is a statistical analysis package.  We’ve chosen Minitab in this book for its ease of use, but other packages could be used as well.  When the task is to develop understanding of a concept, the tool is often a Java applet specifically designed for that purpose, typically with a premium on interactivity and visualization.  For a few tasks, such as examining the effect of changing a parameter value, the appropriate tool might be a spreadsheet package.  We’ve chosen Excel as the spreadsheet package for this book, but its use is minimal.


·        Investigate mathematical underpinnings.

The primary contrast between this book and a “Stat 101” book is that we often ask students to use their mathematical training to investigate some of the underpinnings behind statistical procedures.  An example is that students examine the principle of least squares and other minimization criteria in both univariate and bivariate settings.  Students also examine functions symbolically and numerically to investigate issues such as sample size effects.  Many of these more mathematical aspects emerge in “practice” problems after the ideas have been motivated through student investigations of an application.


·        Introduce probability “just in time.”

We don’t see probability as the goal of an introductory statistics course, so we introduce probability ideas whenever they are needed to address a statistical issue.  Often a probability analysis follows a simulation analysis as a way to obtain exact answers to the simulation’s approximation.  For example, the hypergeometric distribution is introduced after simulating a randomization test with a 2×2 table, and the binomial distribution arises after using simulation to analyze data from a Bernoulli process.  Later probability models are introduced as another type of approximate analysis.  Examples include the normal approximation to the binomial for the sampling distribution of a sample proportion and t-distributions as approximations to randomization distributions.


·        Foster active explorations.

This book consists mostly of investigations that lead students to construct their own knowledge and develop their own understanding of statistical concepts and methods.  These investigations contain directed questions that lead students to those discoveries.  We expect that this pedagogical approach leads to deeper understanding, better retention, and more interest in the material. 


·        Experience the entire statistical process over and over again.

From the outset we ask students to consider issues of data collection, produce graphical and numerical summaries, consider whether inference procedures apply to the situation, apply inference procedures when appropriate, and communicate their findings in the context of the original research question.  This pattern is repeated over and over as students encounter new situations, for example moving from categorical to quantitative responses or from two to several comparison groups.  We hope that this frequent repetition helps students to see the see the entire story, to appreciate the “big picture” of the statistical process, and to develop a feel for “doing statistics.”  We also emphasize students’ development of communication skills so that they can complete the last phase of the statistical process successfully.



Much of the content here is standard for an introductory statistics course, but you will find some less typical inclusions as well.  In addition to the early emphasis on study design and scope of conclusions, Chapter 1 concentrates on comparisons in the context of categorical response variables, including topics such as relative risk, odds ratio, and Fisher’s Exact Test.  Concepts introduced here include variability, confounding, randomization, probability, and significance.  Then Chapter 2 repeats the themes of chapter 1 in the context of quantitative response variables and randomization distributions, also introducing concepts such as resistance.  Chapter 3 moves from comparisons to drawing samples from a population, turning again to categorical variables and focusing on hypergeometric and binomial models.  Concepts of bias, precision, confidence and types of errors are introduced here.  This univariate analysis continues with quantitative variables in Chapter 4, where students study more probability models and sampling distributions.  They also encounter the t-distribution and a discussion of bootstrapping in this chapter.  Chapter 5 then returns to the theme of comparisons between two groups, focusing on large-sample approximations.  The final chapter considers comparisons among several groups and association between variables, including chi-square tests, analysis of variance, and simple linear regression.



This text is designed for use in an active learning environment where students can work collaboratively.  We believe that the ideal classroom environment provides constant computer availability for students, but the materials are flexible enough that an instructor can use the investigations as examples through which to lead students in a lecture setting without a computer lab.  The “study conclusion” and “discussion” sections provide exposition to help students make sure that they are discovering what they are expected to in the investigations.



Most of this book consists of “investigations” that ask students to discover and apply statistical concepts and methods needed for analyzing data gathered to address a particular research question.  The investigations contain a series of directed questions, with space provided for students to record their responses.  At the end of an investigation is a “study conclusion” that summarizes what the student should have discovered about the study, often followed by a discussion of the statistical issues that emerged.  Interspersed among the investigations are “explorations” that ask students to delve deeper into a statistical concept, often involving the use of technology.   We also provide “practice” problems that assess students’ level of understanding of what the preceding investigations were meant to convey.  A final component that you will find are “detours” that introduce terminology or technology hints; we set these apart so as not to interrupt the flow of the investigation of a study.



This book provides an introduction to statistics for students who have completed a course in one-variable calculus.  We do not make frequent use of calculus, but we do assume that students are comfortable with basic mathematical ideas such as functions, and we do call on them to use derivatives and integrals on occasion.  We do ask students to use technology heavily, including some small-scale programming, but we do not assume prior knowledge of programming ideas or of any particular software.  No prior knowledge of statistics is assumed, although we do not devote much time to ideas (such as mean and median, histograms, and scatterplots) that they are likely to have encountered before.




We thank the National Science Foundation for supporting the development of these curricular materials through grants #9950746 and #0321973.


We are very grateful to colleagues who have class-tested or reviewed drafts of these materials: Ulric Lund and Karen McGaughey of Cal Poly, Robin Lock of St. Lawrence University, Jackie Dietz of Meredith College, John Holcomb of Cleveland State University, Chris Franklin of the University of Georgia, Julie Legler of St. Olaf College, and Julie Clark of Hollins University. 


We especially appreciate the help that we have received from students who have reviewed the materials and helped with a variety of tasks related to this project.  Many thanks to Laurel Koester, Tierra Stimson, Nicole Walterman, and Rebecca Russ.  Special thanks to Carol Erickson for always going above and beyond to support our work.


Most of all, we thank all of our students who have served as our pedagogical “guinea pigs” over the years, for their patience and good cheer in helping us to class-test drafts of these materials, and for inspiring us to strive constantly to become better teachers.