Jordan Ellenberg don’t know stat | Rick’s Ramblings

Jordan Ellenberg don’t know stat by Rick Durrett, Ph.D. (Rick's Ramblings
There follows a discussion of flipping coins and the fact that frequencies have more random variation when the sample size is small, but he never stops to see if this is enough to explain the observation.

My intuition told me it did not, so I went and got some brain cancer data.

Jordan Ellenberg is called out a bit by Rick Durrett for one of his claims in the best seller How Not To Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking.

I remember reading that section of the book and mostly breezing through that argument primarily as a simple example with a limited, but direct point. Durrett decided to delve into the applied math a bit further.

These are some of the subtle issues one eventually comes across when experts read others’ works which were primarily written for much broader audiences.

I also can’t help thinking that one paints a target on one’s back with a book title like that…

BTW, the quote of the day has to be:

… so I went and got some brain cancer data.

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🔖 100 years after Smoluchowski: stochastic processes in cell biology

100 years after Smoluchowski: stochastic processes in cell biology by David Holcman and Zeev Schuss (
100 years after Smoluchowski introduces his approach to stochastic processes, they are now at the basis of mathematical and physical modeling in cellular biology: they are used for example to analyse and to extract features from large number (tens of thousands) of single molecular trajectories or to study the diffusive motion of molecules, proteins or receptors. Stochastic modeling is a new step in large data analysis that serves extracting cell biology concepts. We review here the Smoluchowski's approach to stochastic processes and provide several applications for coarse-graining diffusion, studying polymer models for understanding nuclear organization and finally, we discuss the stochastic jump dynamics of telomeres across cell division and stochastic gene regulation.

65 pages, J. Phys A 2016 [1]


D. Holcman and Z. Schuss, “100 years after Smoluchowski: stochastic processes in cell biology,” arXiv, 26-Dec-2016. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 03-Jan-2017]
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Review of The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – But Some Don’t

The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail - But Some Don't by Nate SilverNate Silver (
The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail, But Some Don't Book Cover The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail, But Some Don't
Nate Silver
Business & Economics
Penguin Press HC
September 27, 2012
personal library

The founder of challenges myths about predictions in subjects ranging from the financial market and weather to sports and politics, profiling the world of prediction to explain how readers can distinguish true signals from hype, in a report that also reveals the sources and societal costs of wrongful predictions.

Started Reading: May 25, 2013
Finished Reading: October 13, 2013

Given the technical nature of what Nate Silver does, and some of the early mentions of the book, I had higher hopes for the technical portions of the book. As usual for a popular text, I was left wanting a lot more. Again, the lack of any math left a lot to desire. I wish technical writers could get away with even a handful of equations, but wishing just won’t make it so.

The first few chapters were a bit more technical sounding, but eventually devolved into a more journalistic viewpoint of statistics, prediction, and forecasting in general within the areas of economics, political elections, weather forecasting, earthquakes, baseball, poker, chess, and terrorism. I have a feeling he lost a large part of his audience in the first few chapters by discussing the economic meltdown of 2008 first instead of baseball or poker and then getting into politics and economics.

While some of the discussion around each of these bigger topics are all intrinsically interesting and there were a few interesting tidbits I hadn’t heard or read about previously, on the whole it wasn’t really as novel as I had hoped it would be. I think it should be required reading for all politicians however, as I too often get the feeling that none of them think at this level.

There was some reasonably good philosophical discussion of Bayesian statistics versus Fisherian, but it was all too short and could have been fleshed out more significantly. I still prefer David Applebaum’s historical and philosophical discussion of probability in Probability and Information: An Integrated Approach though he surprisingly didn’t mention R.A. Fisher directly himself in his coverage.

It was interesting to run across additional mentions of power laws in the realms of earthquakes and terrorism after reading Melanie Mitchell’s Complexity: A Guided Tour (review here), but I’ll have to find some texts which describe the mathematics in full detail. There was surprisingly large amount of discussion skirting around the topics within complexity without delving into it in any substantive form.

For those with a pre-existing background in science and especially probability theory, I’d recommend skipping this and simply reading Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow. Kahneman’s work is referenced several times and his book seems less intuitive than some of the material Silver presents here.

This is the kind of text which should be required reading in high school civics classes. Perhaps it might motivate more students to be interested in statistics and science related pursuits as these are almost always at the root of most political and policy related questions at the end of the day.

For me, I’d personally give this three stars, but the broader public should view it with at least four stars if not five as there is some truly great stuff here. Unfortunately a lot of it is old hat or retreaded material for me.

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