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On Monday I attended the CLOSER workshop on lifecourse research. The presenters were largely from the health care world such as epidemiology and psychiatry which was refreshing because so far in my education on quantitative lifecourse research I have mostly been exposed to economists. Perhaps it is because people working in health talk about death and disease, something we all can relate to, I found that I didn’t actually get bored once and doodle like I sometimes do when economists present (my fav doodle is of Bart Simpson – quite hard to draw him just from memory as you can see):

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Bort Sampson

What kept my attention I think, was the wide variety of ways the data was presented. They used graphics, diagrams, flow charts and graphs and only some equations.

As I write this I am enjoying some peaceful time in the British Library and just went to see the Beautiful Science exhibition. Interestingly, many of the leading people in data visualisation from the past seem to have been involved in health (as well as cartography and biology), so perhaps the display of data is very much part of epidemiologist’s history and culture.

I do think that you have to be careful with visuals though. The tree as a visual metaphor I think has been a bit overused for example. Here is the tree that started it all from 1879:

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You’ve got a lot to answer for Ernst Haeckel

So you shouldn’t just do something graphical because you think it looks nice. It has to actually be meaningful.

Although perhaps I can and integrate my Bort Sampson pictures into my thesis somehow though as I think it can help me say something meaningful about schooling and education?

(c) 2014 Annika Coughlin

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It is a commonly held belief that sociologists ‘don’t do stats’. Hence why the ESRC and the Nuffield Foundation have launched Q-Step which is a programme to promote better quantitative social science training in the UK. I deliberately chose to do advanced statistics as part of my PhD. I felt that there is this whole way of discovering things about the world that I only have a tiny bit of knowledge about and as a researcher I want to know about every type of methodology there is so that I can best be prepared to answer a specific research question in the most suitable way.

To supplement my class based learning, I have been doing an online course all about multiple regression. It is a very nicely written and quite fun to do. Module one covers the foundations, so frequencies, barcharts and what not (I finally understand Standard Deviation!). The second module is multiple regression. Although I haven’t quite finished module one yet as I am really trying to learn thoroughly rather than quickly, what I have learnt about multiple regression from my statistics class is that it is pure magic – you can actually predict the future from the multiple regression model. I could not believe my eyes!

The biggest statistical magician of them all, in my view, is Prof Hans Rosling, a Swedish medical doctor and statistician. Last night on BBC2 there was a lecture by him on population growth. What makes his lectures so interesting is of course the incredible graphics and humor, but I would say more importantly it is the way he brings the statistics to life with real examples. Perhaps because he was a medical doctor he is always aware of the people behind the numbers. He banished a lot of myths we have about population growth, poor people in the global south, and reassured us that the world isn’t as bad as we think it is by looking at how much healthier the world has become. Of course there are still one billion people in extreme poverty but that poverty can actually be abolished in a very short time period – if we want to.

Statistics can be very powerful in tackling inequalities and dispelling stereotypes and prejudices and I think are essential part of a sociologist’s toolkit.

Just like that

Just like that

 

(c) 2014 Annika Coughlin

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