Texas A&M Prof Helps Make Teaching Statistics Less Daunting By Use Of Cartoons

Jul 10, 2013, 12:02 ET from Texas A&M University

COLLEGE STATION, Texas, July 10, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Statistics can be a tough subject that turns off students, but one Texas A&M University faculty member is using cartoons to teach it to non-mathematicians.

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Alan Dabney, an associate professor in the Texas A&M Department of Statistics, has written a book titled "The Cartoon Introduction to Statistics," which was co-authored with cartoonist Grady Klein and released earlier this month.

"I want to make it easier for non-math people to access and benefit from statistics," Dabney said. "I think there are a lot of people in the world, not just math majors, who could greatly benefit from having basic tools for extracting confident information from data."

Statistics is a tool that's increasingly playing a greater role in the world as data becomes more abundant. In the last presidential election, statistician Nate Silver correctly predicted which way all 50 states would vote. Statisticians also are involved in cancer drug testing, space shuttle safety analysis, jury selection and just about any field in which data measurement or analysis is needed.

Instead of using the typical textbook examples to illustrate statistical concepts like confounding, probability, hypothesis testing and standard deviations, Dabney and Klein used attention-grabbing devices like evil witches and flying dragons to keep the reader's interest.

"The project was extremely fun for me because it was two very different perspectives trying to come together to do the same thing," said Dabney, who joined the Texas A&M faculty in 2006. "Grady is not a statistician, and I'm certainly not an expert story-teller. He would continually ask, 'What does probability mean in plain English, and why do I care?' It was a challenge, but a good challenge, which is why I think it's going to be a good book."

Dabney envisions the book as a primer of sorts for non-mathematicians. He says it's not a textbook replacement, but perhaps a supplement that will help readers develop a solid grasp of the key concepts and give students, especially non-statistics majors, a better ability to understand more in-depth details in textbooks.

It wasn't the first time that Klein, the creator of a graphic novel series called The Lost Colony, has taken a crack at illustrating an academic topic. He's also the co-author and illustrator of The Cartoon Introduction to Economics Volume One: Microeconomics and The Cartoon Introduction to Economics Volume Two: Macroeconomics – the latter of which is described by trade magazine Publishers Weekly as "a godsend to anyone who needs a simple but complete primer on the ins and outs of economics."

Dabney and Klein's book also has received positive preliminary reviews. Publishers Weekly called it "delightful," while Kirkus Reviews described it as "a gentle, pleasantly illustrated induction into the strange world of bell curves and chi squares . . . A smart, enjoyable overview of this most useful branch of mathematics." The Economist wrote it "has a high probability of being enjoyed." Its article can be viewed at http://www.economist.com/news/books-and-arts/21580449-two-cartoon-gents-get-work-puzzles-painting-numbers.

To learn more about Dabney and his teaching and research, visit http://www.stat.tamu.edu/~adabney/.

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SOURCE Texas A&M University