Searching for Answers

scaleNeed to find something out, just Google it. Now that Google is a verb as well as a noun, it’s easy. But …

It Hasn’t Always Been Easy

Adults under 30, Millennials, grew up with smartphones, laptop and tablet computers, and the Internet. As a group, they’ve never known a time when technology wasn’t integral to their existence. For those of us who finished school before the 1980s, personal computers were a rarity and the Internet was only then being developed for the military-industrial complex. Browsers didn’t appear until the early 1990s. You couldn’t buy a book from Amazon until 1995.

student-using-the-card-catalog-1971So, it hasn’t always been easy to find information. For most students, searching for information before 1980 usually involved a trip to the library. There, you would thumb through the 3×5” cards in the drawers of the card catalog looking for information by keywords. You would write down the title of the book referenced on a card along with its location classification (Dewey, Library of Congress). Then you would go to the location in the book stacks and retrieve the book, unless it was already in use, checked out, misplaced, or stolen. Finding enough information to fulfill a need might take hours or days or longer. Then you had to lug the books to a place where you could read them, extract the information you needed, and write it all down on paper. Needless to say, things have changed for the better. Now you can enter your keywords into an Internet search engine, and in a fraction of a second have references to hundreds, if not hundreds of thousands, websites, articles, blogs, books, images, and presentations. You can bookmark sites to read later or just save the relevant information to the cloud. That process might take minutes and will return more relevant information than you could ever access a generation earlier.

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What People Looked For

Not only can people search more information sources faster than ever before but now Big Business and Big Government collects data on all those searches. For example, wordpress.com keeps track of the number of visitors to the Stats with Cats bcat-using-iphonelog site, what country they accessed the blog from, the search terms they used to find the site, and the blogs they visited. This is useful because it reveals what people are looking for, at least those people who ended up at the Stats with Cats blog.

Here are the frequencies for pertinent search terms from May 2010 through June 2016 and the associated word cloud (produced at http://www.wordle.net/; works best in IE).

keywords2Perhaps not surprisingly, the most common terms are associated with topics students would search if they were confronted with taking their first statistics class – statistics or stats, school or class, graph or chart, data, variable, and correlation. This may reflect the overpowering anticipation of learning about the some of the fascinating aspects of statistical thinking or, more likely, the fear of number crunching.

People searching for “report” are probably trying to figure out how to convert their statistical results into some meaningful story. How to Write Data Analysis Reports is probably much more than they might have expected.

People searching for the number 30 are looking for the reason they were told that their statistical analysis must have at least 30 samples. They might not like the answer at 30 Samples. Standard, Suggestion, or Superstition? but at least they’ll understand where it started, why they keep hearing it, and why the real answer is so unsatisfying.

What They Found

There were over 76,000 referrals from 255 sites, of which 97% came from Google. Bing and Facebook each contributed about 1%. Five Things You Should Know Before Taking Statistics 101 was viewed over 100,000 times in five and a half years. Secrets of Good Correlations had nearly 70,000 views in six years.

search-terms

The following table summarizes the views and the views per year for 56 Stats with Cats blogs.

 

Post

Total Views

Years Available

Views per Year

Five Things You Should Know Before Taking Statistics 101 109,329 5.5 19,878
Secrets of Good Correlations 69,212 6.1 11,377
How to Write Data Analysis Reports 32,253 3.5 9,774
How to Tell if Correlation Implies Causation 10,552 1.5 7,035
30 Samples. Standard, Suggestion, or Superstition? 18,151 6.1 2,984
Why Do I Have To Take Statistics? 13,645 6.1 2,243
Ten Fatal Flaws in Data Analysis 13,618 6.1 2,239
Fifty Ways to Fix your Data 11,067 6.1 1,819
Six Misconceptions about Statistics You May Get From Stats 101 8,011 5.5 1,457
Regression Fantasies 7,117 5.5 1,294
The Right Tool for the Job 5,586 6.1 918
The Best Super Power of All 3,511 4.5 780
Why You Don’t Always Get the Correlation You Expect 1,450 2.5 580
Looking for Insight through a Window 224 0.5 448
A Picture Worth 140,000 Words 2,292 5.5 417
The Heart and Soul of Variance Control 2,248 6.1 370
O.U..T…L….I……E……..R………………..S 907 2.5 363
The Five Pursuits You Meet in Statistics 2,005 6.1 330
Ten Ways Statistical Models Can Break Your Heart 144 0.5 288
The Zen of Modeling 1,731 6.1 285
The Foundation of Professional Graphs 1,226 4.5 272
Assuming the Worst 1,550 6.1 255
It’s All Relative 1,303 5.5 237
There’s Something About Variance 1,424 6.1 234
The Measure of a Measure 1,180 6.1 194
Purrfect Resolution 1,167 6.1 192
The Data Scrub 1,145 6.1 188
Limits of Confusion 1,030 5.5 187
Try This At Home 1,133 6.1 186
Grasping at Flaws 1,009 5.5 183
Consumer Guide to Statistics 101 984 5.5 179
It’s All Greek 1,058 6.1 174
It was Professor Plot in the Diagram with a Graph 1,028 6.1 169
Weapons of Math Production 934 6.1 154
Polls Apart 819 5.5 149
You’re Off to Be a Wizard 881 6.1 145
Samples and Potato Chips 866 6.1 142
Time Is On My Side 865 6.1 142
You Can Lead a Boss to Data but You Can’t Make Him Think 833 6.1 137
Types and Patterns of Data Relationships 323 2.5 129
The Santa Claus Strategy 741 6.1 122
It’s All in the Technique 693 6.1 114
The Data Dozen 603 5.5 110
Becoming Part of the Group 589 5.5 107
Reality Statistics 618 6.1 102
Aphorisms for Data Analysts 524 5.5 95
Ten Tactics used in the War on Error 520 5.5 95
The Seeds of a Model 478 6.1 79
Ockham’s Spatula 389 5.5 71
Statistics: a Remedy for Football Withdrawal 384 5.5 70
Many Paths Lead to Models 370 6.1 61
Dealing with Dilemmas 283 5.5 51
Perspectives on Objectives 251 6.1 41
Tales of the Unprojected 241 6.1 40
Getting the Right Answer 197 5.5 36
Resurrecting the Unplanned 202 6.1 33

The message these statistics are sending appears to be that the Stats with Cats blog attracts introductory students who don’t know what to expect from their statistics class or need help in understanding challenging statistical concepts. In contrast, experienced students are acquainted with more statistics professors and students. They own more statistics textbooks and have visited more educational web sites. And as a consequence, they search for more specific statistical terms, like tolerance limits and autocorrelation, that beginners wouldn’t know. It’s ironic, then, that Stats with Cats was written for students who had completed Statistics 101 and were looking for some help in applying what they had learned. Interesting … sometimes statistical analyses reveal things you don’t expect.

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Read more about using statistics at the Stats with Cats blog. Read them to your cats. Join other fans at the Stats with Cats Facebook group and the Stats with Cats Facebook page. Order Stats with Cats: The Domesticated Guide to Statistics, Models, Graphs, and Other Breeds of Data Analysis at amazon.com,  barnesandnoble.com, or other online booksellers.

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About statswithcats

Charlie Kufs has been crunching numbers for over thirty years. He currently works as a statistician.
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2 Responses to Searching for Answers

  1. Pingback: Searching for Answers | A bunch of data

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